Taking Sides

Posted on May 13th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

As with the EURef, it might be worth taking a look at the protagonists on either side of the Named Person’s arguments to see who it is you are siding with.

So, against the legislation are the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Telegraph, the Scotsman, the Herald, and Unionist politicians who were originally in favour but decided to speak out against it when they saw a chance to score political points during the election campaign.

Those in favour of the legislation include most Children’s Charities, the majority of people who work in childcare and education, and many children who have experienced the benefits in the four regions where the scheme has been trialed.

Looking at it that way, I know which side I’d prefer to be on.


Told You So

Posted on May 12th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

When IDS resigned and Stephen Crabb took over at the DWP, he said he had no plans for further cuts to Disability Benefits. This site warned at the time that a Tory saying he or she has no plans to do something almost inevitably means that he or she has plans but knows they need to be delayed for a while.

Sadly, it seems the warning was appropriate because Stephen Crabb has told the Work & Pensions Select Committee that he will be publishing details later this year on how to make further cuts to spending on Disability Benefits because he doesn’t think the reforms already announced go far enough.

I hate saying, “I told you so" but what else is there to say?


Say It Again

Posted on May 9th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So all those pollsters and seat predictors got it wrong. The SNP did not gain a majority in Holyrood. Whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, it shows that you can’t rely on polls.

The constant repetition that the SNP were on track to take all constituency seats and therefore didn’t need Regional List votes may have induced some voters to switch their List vote but it is equally possible that the ludicrous refrain of “One Party State" had a bearing on the matter. What these show is that constant repetition of any statement, however loosely based on fact, can result in it seeping into the social consciousness.

The mainstream media is still at it, telling us that the Ruth Party are not really Tories but that, nevertheless, the Tories have revived in Scotland. Neither of these statements stand up well to scrutiny but that isn’t stopping the media pushing them for all they are worth. That’s because they know a great many people will believe them simply because they are repeated so often. That’s why we need the alternative media and why we need to persuade more people to stop relying on the mainstream for their information.


A Mixed Bag

Posted on May 6th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Everyone is putting forward their initial reaction to the result of the Holyrood election so here’s my contribution.

So far, the media headlines concerning the Holyrood Election begin with phrases like “SNP fail" and “Tory Revival". No doubt this will continue for some time but there is, when you look at the results, a more nuanced appraisal required. No doubt various statistics will be quoted by all the Parties but a few things stand out.

First the good news. UKIP did not earn a seat. Hooray! The Greens increased their presence and Scottish Labour have turned into a rump Party.

One odd feature is the survival of the Lib Dems. It seems some voters don’t mind being represented by a Party with a proven track record of lying and also of facilitating Tory rule in Westminster. Odd, but that’s democracy for you.

The not so good news for those of us who want Scotland to become a normal country is that the SNP did not reach the magic 65 seats required for a majority despite gaining around 156,000 more votes than they did in 2011 and earning more votes than both Labour and Conservatives combined in both Constituency and Regional votes. This, of course, is a feature of the voting system which is specifically designed to prevent any one Party gaining a majority. The fact that the SNP managed it last time was a bit of a fluke but they still came within two seats of repeating the virtually impossible. However, the system worked as intended and the SNP now face the issue of how to proceed in Government; either as a minority, in coalition, or in some sort of Confidence & Supply arrangement.

The greens are the obvious choice for any coalition or informal alliance. Many on the Yes side are consoling themselves that the overall pro-Indie majority is now slightly greater than it was before the election but there are a couple of issues surrounding that view.

First of all, the greens, while supporting Indie in principle, are not as keen on holding a referendum as the SNP. It is conceivable that even a brexit in the EURef might not be sufficient to prompt the Greens to support a call for another IndieRef. There is also the issue that the Tory Westminster Government will regard the lack of an SNP majority as a reason to ignore calls for another IndieRef because, in the Unionist mindset, the Yes movement is entirely concentrated in the SNP and they will claim that Scotland does not support independence because the SNP failed to gain a majority despite the system being rigged to prevent them doing so.

The other issue is more complex and could go several ways. One thing the Greens may well be able to do is exert influence on the SNP on issues like Land Reform, Fracking, Renewable Energy and Council Tax Reform. On all of these, the SNP have been fairly cautious and many of their own members might welcome a more radical stance for which the greens can take the blame if things go wrong and both Parties can try to take the credit if they work.

The problem which might arise is that these more radical policies which the Greens will undoubtedly push for could harden the attitude of the Right Wing voters if they see Scotland diverging even further from UK policies. That stance is hard enough already as yesterday’s vote confirms. It seems that many voters are prepared to support the Conservatives simply in order to continue waving the Union flag and are quite prepared to put up with the policies Ruth Davidson never wants to talk about, like charging for prescriptions, charging students for university tuition, privatising the NHS, cutting Scotland’s budget, refusing to help Scottish industries like steel and shipbuilding, cutting social security benefits, closing down public services, allowing fracking, overseeing a proliferation of food banks, vilifying the Disabled and Unemployed, refusing to aid refugees from warzones where the UK has been involved in bombing their homes, pandering to tax evading Corporations and making the wealthy 1% of the population even richer at the expense of everyone else.

Now, I can understand why someone who is relatively well off thanks to having prospered under the current UK social model would want to preserve that model and would therefore vote Conservative. You may regard that attitude as selfish and greedy but most people look out for themselves first so, while it might be distasteful to some of us, the attitude is at least understandable. What is harder to empathise with is the attitude of the hardline Unionists who seem to have voted solely in order to prevent another IndieRef, irrespective of the consequences. The expression about turkeys and Christmas springs to mind.

Fortunately, though, the Conservatives are not in power in Scotland so we don’t need to face the double whammy of both Westminster and Holyrood attempting to slash public spending. It may be more difficult for the SNP to get every Bill passed but, with cooperation from the Greens, we will hopefully continue to see policies which help mitigate the worst excesses of Westminster cuts. The chance of another IndieRef is virtually gone now so the best we can hope for is another five years of pretty decent government. Despite the claims of the hostile media, the SNP have done a fairly decent job in many areas, especially in improvements to infrastructure such as the Borders railway and the new Forth crossing. Scotland’s NHS is the best performing in the UK and continues to be exempt from the wholesale privatisation in England & Wales, not to mention the Junior Doctors’ strike action which continues south of the Border. Failing shipyards and steelworks have been saved, the worst impact of the Bedroom Tax has been offset and there are advances in childcare provision which should help more women return to work. The SNP are not perfect and they have misjudged a couple of things but no Government is perfect so I’m not going to get too hung up about that, especially because they have accomplished these things despite massive cuts to the Block Grant which Westminster graciously allows us. In general, their policies have been designed to aid the majority, especially the less well off, while not overly upsetting the better off.

As to where we go now, time will tell. It is apparent that the constitutional issue is paramount. That’s down to the Unionist Parties, especially the Tories, who have not stopped banging on about another IndieRef and the need to prevent it. That call has clearly been heeded by some voters. As I mentioned, more radical policies over the next five years, spurred on by the greens, might make the case for Indie even more difficult as the Unionist support digs in against more Left Wing policies.

On the other hand, Ruth Davidson will now lead the main Opposition and this will allow Nicola Sturgeon to highlight the Tory policies which are designed to wreck the universal social benefits the SNP have already introduced. Ruth Davidson, for all that the media love her, isn’t all that impressive when put under pressure on these sorts of issues and some voters may begin to see the reality of Tory rule.

Another interesting feature is how the BBC and STV will react now that the Greens have pushed the Lib Dems into fifth place. Will TV panels now be more balanced when it comes to the inevitable constitutional arguments? Instead of three Unionist MSPs shouting down one SNP MSP, will it be two v two? I suspect not because the TV companies, especially the BBC, have little interest in balance when it comes to the pro-Indie movement.

And, finally, what of Labour’s Scottish Branch Office? Labour, both at UK and Scottish levels don’t seem to have learned the lesson that you can’t out-Tory the Tories. They were used as stooges by better Together and they have suffered from losing pro-Indie supporters to the SNP and anti-Indie supporters to the Tories. They are, in effect, caught between the two and unable to appeal to either. Their only chance of revival would appear to be changing their entire stance and supporting the case for independence. That might regain them some support but trying to be more Unionist than the Tories simply isn’t going to work. But, of course, Scottish Labour won’t change tack because they are controlled by UK Labour who are staunchly Unionist. In a Scotland where the constitutional issue dominates, that has doomed them.

So it’s been quite an election and we now face an interesting future. What was all that we used to hear about Uncertainty?


Eyes On The Prize

Posted on May 2nd, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

At the weekend, I tweeted that the chances of a second IndieRef rest on the SNP gaining a majority in Holyrood once again and that, whatever people’s political affiliations, it would be better not to take the risk of them not achieving that allegedly impossible feat for the second time. This Tweet evoked a fair bit of response and two things were mentioned by people who were having second thoughts about supporting the SNP.

The first came from a fairly lengthy exchange of Tweets from people who object to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act; the second was a complaint that Nicola Sturgeon had posed for a photograph in The sun, a newspaper which has rightly been excoriated for its appalling stance on the Hillsborough Disaster.

Both of these responses actually confirm the point I was trying to make. In the first place, it is everyone’s right to decide which Party to vote for based on that Party’s policies. If there is one policy you feel particularly strongly about, then you have every right not to vote for that Party. However, I challenge anyone to find a Party with which they agree on every point. Indeed, a Party which might have a different stance on the policy which concerns you might well have other policies you disagree with even more fundamentally. There is also the issue that what a Party says and what it does are not necessarily the same thing. Yes, I’m looking at you, Labour.

As for Nicola Sturgeon appearing in The Sun, that’s a move which is bound to upset some people. The Sun is an appalling newspaper but, much as I would not blame the SNP for refusing to have anything to do with any of the mainstream newspapers or the BBC in view of the constant stream of anti-Scottish and anti-SNP propaganda these outlets constantly churn out, we should not forget that the SNP politicians are just that – politicians. As the estimable David Halliday pointed out on Twitter, politics is the art of persuading people round to your point of view. It is hard enough for the SNP to get their message across against the outrageous media bias but to cut off all contact with media outlets is clearly a step they regard as being one too far. I was at a public meeting once where Nicola Sturgeon was speaking and, when asked about the media, she said that it was what it was and she would have to deal with it, much as she wished it might be otherwise. She obviously hasn’t changed her mind on that. IN her place, I might well let my temper get the better of me and refuse to have anything to do with the rags which pose as purveyors of news in the UK but can you imagine how the already hostile media would react to that sort of stance? The SNP have clearly decided that they need to play the politics game and maintain contact with the media, even though that decision has upset some people. But, if your job is to persuade people to come round to your way of thinking, refusing to speak to them probably isn’t the best way to go about it, no matter how much personal satisfaction it might give you to tell them where to go.

But, to return to my main point. If you support Scottish Independence, the reality of the matter is that the SNP represents our only real choice on Thursday. Refusing to vote for them because you are annoyed about a particular policy or a specific interaction with the media isn’t going to help the Yes movement because the Unionist Parties have all nailed their colours to the Union Flag mast and declared that, whatever the wishes of the people of Scotland, they won’t allow a second IndieRef. This is particularly important when a recent Opinion Poll has suggested that Yes now has a lead in the event that a second IndieRef were to be held soon. Because the reality is that, without a majority, the SNP cannot push through a referendum at all. Putting aside the important constitutional issue that Westminster may well refuse to allow another IndieRef, the Scottish Unionists have made it plain that they would ignore the wishes of the scottish people and would kill the chances stone dead if they can. The only way to avoid this is for the SNP to repeat their astonishing success in gaining a majority of Holyrood seats.

To those who say that they would prefer a wider pro-Yes Parliament and intend voting for the greens, I would point out that, while the Greens have said they would support a Yes vote in a second IndieRef, they have been very ambivalent about whether they would support the call for an actual referendum. It’s an odd stance but that seems to be their official position.

As always in Scottish politics, the Holyrood vote is influenced by the IndieRef question. It boils down to whether you think obtaining independence is the priority or whether you’d rather see a more diverse Parliament. If you want the latter, that is your choice but don’t forget that a more diverse Parliament may well kill off any chances of having another IndieRef.

For me, Independence is the priority. Once we have that, I’m all for changing the voting system to a fully proportional one so that a majority Government is even less likely than it is under the current system. I’d like to see the greens have more seats and I’d like to see some effective opposition from the other Parties who, once the question of independence is off the agenda because we have achieved it, might actually begin to free themselves from the shackles of their Westminster overlords and concentrate on issues which directly affect Scotland.

But we don’t have that yet and we might never get it unless we demonstrate, through our votes, that we support the SNP’s primary objective of obtaining independence and becoming a normal country.

So, to those who are having second thoughts about supporting the SNP because of a single policy or a single newspaper photograph, I’d say again – be sure that is your priority because you might well lose the bigger prize.


Our Imperial Past

Posted on April 25th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

You expect Nigel Farage to make outrageously racist comments but he’s far from the only prominent UK politician to do so. Boris Johnson has rightly been castigated for claiming that Barak Obama’s anti-Brexit comments are inspired by his part-Kenyan ancestry. Not only is this comment typical of the BritNat belief that race lies at the heart of most issues, it reveals something which the media has, so far as I know, not mentioned.

Because Boris Johnson has, in the past, acclaimed the achievements and legacy of the British Empire. But his remark about Kenya shows that he must know that the British Empire was not a benevolent ruler. If it had been, why on earth would he think that someone of Kenyan ancestry would feel any bitterness towards the UK? If the British Empire had been such a good thing, wouldn’t Boris believe that Kenyans must feel some attachment to the UK? To use Kenyan ancestry as a reason for antipathy shows that Boris Johnson must know how brutal the British were when in control of Kenya. Concentration camps, executions and torture were part and parcel of colonial rule. These things don’t normally feature in BritNat thinking so it’s nice to see that, even obliquely, Boris Johnson has acknowledged the deliberate harm the British Empire caused in its colonies.

I don’t for one moment think that President Obama was influenced by his ancestry when making his comments. His primary aim is to ensure that US Corporations retain their hegemony over the EU through deals like TTIP, and scoring points based on ethnic backgrounds was probably the last thing on his mind. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Little Englanders like Boris Johnson for whom ethnicity is central to their belief system. Whatever you think of Obama’s intervention, we should be grateful that it prompted Boris Johnson to show his true colours and also to tacitly acknowledge the harm the British Empire did to its colonial subjects.


Job Security

Posted on April 23rd, 2016

By Wee Hamish

I don’t recall anyone saying all jobs would be safe if Scotland had become an independent country. I do recall Better Together telling us that jobs would only be safe if we stayed in the UK.

Vote NO, they said, to protect jobs in the north Sea Oil industry if the price of oil falls, because only the broad shoulders of the UK can protect these jobs.

Vote NO, they said, to save jobs in HMRC offices in Scotland.

Vote No, they said, to protect Scottish Renewables which are subsidised by the generosity of Westminster.

Vote NO, they said, to protect jobs at the Peterhead Carbon Capture Project.

Vote No, they said, to protect jobs in Scotland’s steel factories.

Vote No, they said, to protect jobs in Scottish shipyards.

How many more lies need to be revealed before a majority of Scots wake up to the contempt Westminster holds us in? Before the IndieRef, Wings Over Scotland warned Scotland would be punished if we voted No. Looks like that prediction was correct.


Don't Vote For Us

Posted on April 21st, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

There is much muttering on social media that the SNP are somehow being unfair by campaigning for voters to give them both votes in the Holyrood elections, as if this is some sort of betrayal of the wider Yes campaign which arose during the IndieRef. Some people seem to think that the SNP should be happy for voters to give their Regional List vote to another pro-Indie Party such as The Greens. I have yet to hear anyone call for Green supporters to give their Regional List vote to the SNP because that would give Scotland its best chance of holding a second IndieRef but this goes to demonstrate how much the “One Party State" lie has infiltrated the public consciousness. Even people who did not bat an eyelid when Labour held a majority of Westminster seats and were able to form coalition Governments in Holyrood now seem to be questioning the SNP’s right to have a majority in Holyrood as if the public who voted in the SNP despite the system being rigged to prevent a majority Government have somehow got it wrong.

The important thing to remember is that the SNP is not the Yes campaign. They are its effective political arm but they are a political party, just like any other. They want to be in Government and will use all the same political ploys to achieve that aim. They just do it better than the other parties and, for all their faults, they do manage to deliver policies which, by and large, many people approve of. With the other Parties having lurched ever further towards the extreme Right Wing, the SNP, who are far from a Left Wing Party, have nevertheless managed to portray themselves as more socialist than the other main parties with the exception of The Greens who haven’t yet been able to garner a large support across the country. Given Scotland’s disillusionment with the Tories and Labour, the SNP are making the most of the current situation. Their desire for political dominance may not please some on the Yes side but we must recognise that the SNP are pragmatic politicians and, as far as I can recall, no political Party has ever gone into an election with the slogan, “Please Don’t Vote For Us!".


Disability Hustings

Posted on April 20th, 2016

By Blind Pew

I was lucky enough to attend a Hustings event hosted by Disability Agenda Scotland the other day. The audience comprised disabled voters from six different Disability Charities, plus their guides and carers, along with representatives from the six charities represented by DAS.

The panel was composed of five politicians from the main parties. These were Jamie Hepburn, SNP; Zara Kitson, Greens; Robert Brown, Liberal Democrats; Michael Shanks, Labour; Graeme Brooks, conservatives.

The main thing that struck me about the event was the cross-Party agreement on almost every matter. There was sympathetic understanding and a general commitment to helping the Disabled from all panel members and there were also some excellent suggestions for how things could perhaps be improved, especially from Zara Kitson of the Greens. There was very little Party political axe-grinding although Robert Brown of the Lib Dems did manage to slip in a mention of State Guardians in his opening remark when he briefly touched on the Named Persons legislation and Michael Shanks of Scottish Labour plugged the 1p tax increase several times, while Jamie Hepburn reminded the audience of measures the Scottish Government have already taken to help Disabled people. Other than that, it was refreshing to see that four of the five panel members used the term, “Social Security" rather than “Welfare Benefits" and agreed that the current system is grossly unfair to the Disabled. As you would expect, the one exception was Graeme Brooks of the Conservatives who insisted that making cuts to Social Security payments was not the UK Government’s main aim but that the Tory Welfare reform was aimed at getting people out of their beds and into work. As if this wasn’t enough to anger people who often struggle physically to get out of bed, he also managed to outrage most of the audience with some bizarre comments that it was Westminster democracy which prevented George Osborne’s budget attempt to impose further cuts and that this wonderful example of democracy was far better than the alternative which, in his mind, would be gangs of people roaming the streets armed with guns. For me, the most worrying thing was that he seemed absolutely sincere in his views. Quite how he squares his professed attachment to Christianity with the actions of the Tory Government is, I confess, beyond me. That apart, though, the discussion was generally positive from all panel members.

The other main feature was the universal anger and sense of helpless betrayal felt by the majority of the audience. The cuts, the move from DLA to PIP and the closure of many lifeline services and centres were of great concern, as was the low pay available to most workers in the care sector and the derisory sums paid via the Carer’s Allowance. Employment was also a major concern, with a general acknowledgement that Disabled people still face considerable issues, not to mention discrimination, when trying to get into work.

The panel were in general agreement that the current system is failing Disabled people but, while it was nice to know that these politicians were listening seriously to the grievances, the one big problem that was often alluded to but rarely discussed in any detail, was the serious funding issue. Of course, this was a Disability Hustings and a detailed discussion on the economic situation would not have been appropriate but the ideas and ambitions of each Party (apart from the Tories) were, unfortunately, all doomed to be hampered by the cuts to Scotland’s budget. Even Labour’s much-vaunted tax increase will not necessarily affect this since they seem to have allocated the estimated increased revenue to cover an awful lot of things and Disability Benefits will inevitably be in competition for whatever money such a system might raise.

This was an interesting and worthwhile event and all the panellists, with one exception, spoke well and were clearly well-intentioned. Hopefully, whichever Party is in power after the Holyrood elections will organise some sort of cross-Party support for further measures to mitigate the effect of the Tory policies which deliberately discriminate against the Disabled. It is a shocking indictment of those policies that the other Parties recognise the need to do something about them but, sadly, unless there is a reversal of the crippling Austerity Economics pursued by Westminster, it seems Scotland is doomed to fight an ongoing battle against these cuts. What was good to know is that, with the exception of the Tories, the other Parties professed a desire to try to do something to alleviate the many difficulties faced by Disabled people. Let’s hope that consensus view has a chance to blossom in the next Holyrood Parliament and the current Opposition Parties turn their fine words into deeds.


Lies, Damned Lies & ...

Posted on April 15th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Today saw the release of some very concerning statistics about life in the UK.

First was the announcement from the Trussell Trust that the use of Food Banks had increased by 2% during 2015, bringing levels to an all time high. That’s bad enough but the figures for Scotland were even more alarming, with a whopping 13% increase in Food Bank usage. Perhaps that is part of that Better Together Union Dividend we were told so much about in 2014.

As if this sad indictment of UK social policies wasn’t dreadful in its own right, I was appalled to hear a lady from the Trussell Trust being interviewed and almost bending over backwards in her attempts not to plame the Tory Government’s Austerity and Benefits Sanctions regime for the ever increasing reliance on Food Banks. Her evasive platitudes about the need for dialogue with Government and perhaps some minor tweaking of systems was quite bizarre. At first, I thought the lady might be an avid Tory herself, a conclusion which didn’t make much sense seeing as she was obviously concerned at the harrowing circumstances which force people to use Food Banks and, equally obviously, she knew the root causes of the upsurge. Then it occurred to me that she would need to be careful what she said because the UK Government has already made it clear that they will cut funding to any charity which is critical of their policies. That’s the sort of Government we elected, folks. Or, rather, the sort of Government we didn’t elect but got saddled with anyway thanks to the result of the IndieRef.

In a further demonstration of British Values, the other snippet of information was that UK Graduates from ethnic minorities are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than their White counterparts. Following on from the announcement earlier in the week from The Guardian newspaper that, of the ten of its writers who receive the most abuse via Readers’ Comments, eight are women and the two men are black, this news is yet more confirmation of the endemic racism at the heart of British society. It is no wonder that UKIP and the xenophobic UK Press find such fertile ground when they spread their hate.

These statistics show the sad state of the UK today but the very worst thing is that, in all likelihood, the only reaction from the majority of people will be to shake their heads and tut at how deplorable things are, then carry on as if nothing had happened. Because another claim this week was that the voters in Scotland are far more engaged in politics than voters in the rest of the UK. Conditioned by decades (some would say centuries) of media propaganda, British voters seem content to put up with things like the Panama Papers, Food Bank usage, corrupt and lying politicians, rising inequality, low pay, etc., as long as they are fed a diet of Royal Family photo opportunities and episodes of Downton Abbey or Strictly Come Dancing.

What will it take to change this? In Scotland, the IndieRef made people far more politically active and engaged but it doesn’t look as if the EURef will have the same effect throughout the UK because, so far, all we have heard is the same old scare stories and Uncertainty alarms which many Scots have become inured to but which, judging by the comments from BBC Question Time audience members, still resonate with voters elsewhere.

It is all very depressing and, quite frankly, it’s on days like this that we could do with some genuine good news.


Don't Ask Questions

Posted on April 14th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s difficult to get excited about the Holyrood elections. Despite a relentless media campaign against the SNP, they look to be on track to gain another majority which, we should not forget, is supposed to be virtually impossible to achieve once, let alone twice. The only thing that seems likely to prevent this is voter apathy or a draining of votes to other Parties like the Greens or Rise.

Labour’s Scottish Branch Office seems doomed to be kept aloft only by their hardened core of voters and are largely irrelevant despite the BBC’s attempts to push their chances at almost every opportunity.

But what about the Tories? Will they really sneak into second place? They might because they have a better spin machine than Scottish Labour. I know that sounds daft when placed against the BBC’s support for Labour but the Ruth Davidson fan club in the media commentariat is pushing her for all it is worth.

But what does Ruth Davidson have to offer? Nothing much except more cuts to Scotland’ budget, flag-waving from a variety of militaristic vehicles and undying support for the Union. The media, of course, lap this up and we are constantly told that Ruth Davidson is very popular with voters. Nobody seems to question this by pointing to the leadership popularity polls which suggest she is only slightly more popular than Kezia Dugdale which, let’s face it, isn’t setting the bar very high. IN fact, Ruth Davidson is really only popular amongst older voters which is hardly surprising seeing as many of these people are those who find it impossible to shake off their lifelong allegiance to the Union.

As for Ruth’s policies, such as they are, the inherent anomaly at the very heart of their pro-Union stance has already been pointed out on social media but seems to have escaped the attention of the mainstream media. It is, quite simply, this: if the case for Scottish independence is dead, as Davidson claims, why is there a need to promote a case for the Union? Maybe a journalist will ask her one day but I’m not counting on it.


A Cynical Agenda?

Posted on April 8th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

You can’t blame David Cameron for being rich.

You can’t blame him for his father being a tax-dodger.

You can’t really blame him for inheriting money in a manner that was tax efficient.

What you can blame him for his not amending the rules to prevent this sort of immoral tax avoidance being so widespread among the wealthy, not to mention among the world’s criminals.

And you can certainly blame him for not telling the truth when first asked and for continuing to prevaricate as much as possible.

There is, quite rightly, a lot of pressure on him just now, with many calling for his resignation. In a normal country, that might well happen but I suspect Dave will cling on. Besides, the alternative candidates for PM are too horrendous to contemplate. But Westminster operates by riding out storms, by delaying, by distracting and relying on the UK public not to make too much fuss.

Cameron’s problem, though, is that the media are jumping on the bandwagon and I have a cynical explanation for why even this arch-manipulator might be hounded out of office. The thing is that the data containing the details of who is involved in hiding money in tax havens is controlled by journalists. And those journalists work for news agencies which have agendas.

I have yet to see an explanation of why, with over 200 journalists working on this data for over a year, only a handful of prominent Western politicians and public figures have been named and even then only at one remove. Are we really to believe that there aren’t others?

It may be that data will be drip fed in order to prevent overload but that’s not usually how the media works and, when it does, it doesn’t normally take this long. Which suggests there is an agenda at work.

I may well be wrong on this but I expect George Osborne to come under the microscope next but I will be pleasantly surprised if any pro-Brexit MPs are named as being involved because, cynical as this may sound, most of the UK media is controlled by pro-Brexit tax-avoiding millionaires. This may be a convenient way for them to oust Cameron and Osborne and install their pet poodle, Boris Jognson, as PM.

Will the full truth ever come out? I doubt it. But this confirmation of what many of us have been saying about the UK for some time is yet another blow to the increasingly fragile UK. When the skeletons come out of the closet and start hanging the dirty laundry on the washing line, the public has two options. They can either shrug their shoulders and accept that the wealthy can do pretty much what they like or they can use their votes to get rid of untrustworthy politicians. Yet even that second choice is limited because Westminster is corrupt to the core. And we all know what Scotland’s solution to breaking free of that corruption is. Quite frankly, even if some of the scare stories we heard during the IndieRef were to come true, independence surely couldn’t be any worse than being governed by the self-serving hypocrites who rule the roost at Westminster.


Developing Story

Posted on April 4th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The Panama Papers are receiving the sort of response you’d expect from the UK media. They can’t hush it up entirely but are being very circumspect in making sure that most attention is directed at foreign politicians who are, of course, bad almost by definition.

It remains to be seen whether news will come out of any significant involvement on the part of US or UK politicians and public figures but it would not be entirely surprising if this was neatly swept under the carpet because, after all, the media is owned by the sort of people who might be using offshore tax havens to hide their own ill-gotten gains. I do hope I’m wrong but I suspect the media will either play down any stories through a self-imposed censorship policy or will have pressure applied from Establishment figures to ensure such stories reveal only the identities of a handful of expendable sacrificial scapegoats.

It may be that social media could disseminate any revelations but the problem is that the data is, so far at least, being controlled by media organisations and any information released will be at the discretion of journalists. Let’s hope there are enough of them who have the courage to publish the details.

Whether the full details come out or not, the whole episode merely confirms what we already knew; that the wealthy elite are stashing their money away while telling the rest of us that we need to tighten our belts because there is no money to spend on public services. IN a sense, they are right but at least we now know where all the money has gone. It certainly doesn’t seem to have been trickling down into the economy, does it?

It will be fascinating to see how this story develops or, as I fear, does not develop, over the next few days.


No Plans

Posted on March 29th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Some people might take comfort from the UK Government’s announcement that, following cancellation of the cuts to Disability Benefits which were revealed in George Osborne’s disastrous Budget, they have no plans to reintroduce these cuts at a later date.

But should we take this reassurance lightly? A quick Google search suggests we shouldn’t be too surprised if the cuts to PIP are soon back on the Tory agenda.

For example, the Tories had no plans to:-

cut child Benefit but did it anyway;

raise VAT but did it anyway;

sell off Channel 4 but now say they are considering it;

allow fracking in National Parks in England & Wales but passed legislation permitting this anyway;

privatise the NHS in England but are doing it by stealth anyway;

introduce extensive spending cuts if elected to Government and we all know how that has turned out;

cut Pensioners’ Winter Fuel Allowance then did it anyway;

impose a top-down reorganisation of the NHS in England but did it anyway.

Scrap Educational Maintenance Allowance, then did it anyway.

Now, politicians are often required to adapt their policies in light of changing circumstances but, with a track record like that, it seems the Tories adapt their policies more in line with when they think they can get away with something rather than when circumstances require a rethink. So, cynical as this may sound, don’t be too surprised if cuts to PIP payments reappear in a slightly amended form at some point in the next few months.


Here Comes The Sun

Posted on March 27th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Boris Johnson has been at it again, claiming the Scots are stealing daylight from the English because of our resistance to changing the current system of using Greenwich Mean Time during winter and British Summer Time during summer.

It’s becoming almost an annual event now, and there is little doubt that, sooner or later, the likes of Boris will have their way and we will move either to BST all year round or perhaps even Double British Summer Time, with BST applying during winter and BST +1 applying in summer.

What most of the people arguing for this don’t seem to recall is that there was an experiment with this in the late 1960s. Some of us can remember going to school in the dark, with fluorescent strips on our schoolbags and shining armbands on our coats. It was cold, dark and miserable and the experiment was abandoned after a couple of years.

The odd thing was that, overall within the UK, the increase in road deaths during the dark mornings was offset by a greater decrease in evening road deaths although this was complicated because it coincided with a change to drink drive laws so it was difficult to ascertain whether the evening decrease was entirely due to the lighter evenings.

It is a tricky call but there are a few solutions to it. First of all, it should be remembered that the actual hours of daylight don’t change – it is only the clocks that change. Scotland, being further north, really needs to stick to GMT / BST but if that changes, a simple solution would be for Local Authorities to amend school opening hours so that children continue to travel to and from school in daylight. That might also ease congestion on the roads if other commuters stuck to the traditional 9 to 5.

A more radical solution would be for Scotland to operate in a different time zone to the rest of the UK. NO doubt there would be some initial confusion, not to mention howls of outrage from BritNats at Scotland being different but let us not forget that countries all across the world operate in different time zones and manage it perfectly easily. Just look at the USA where several different time zones apply. It is accepted as normal, although that probably wouldn’t prevent the BritNats from claiming it would be impossible in Britain because we are incapable of managing without the time of day being dictated from London.

The other solution is for Westminster to impose the change across the UK and then sit back and watch the reaction in Scotland. I think this is my favourite one. You can just see the Grievance Meter going through the roof.

Not that this would stop Boris from pandering to the South East of England and imposing the change anyway. Sometimes I almost wish he really would become Prime Minister because he seems to be doing his best to put the final nails in the coffin of the failing Union.

Tick tock.


What It Takes

Posted on March 27th, 2016

By Wee Hamish

What does it take to block a financial programme which is intended to harm the Disabled people in our community?

Is it electing 56 (now officially 54) SNP MPs to oppose the plans in the House of Commons?

Is it setting up online petitions to demand the UK Government does not implement the changes?

Is it scores of Disabled people dying as a direct result of earlier cuts to their Social Security payments?

Is it dozens of newspaper articles highlighting the damaging effects of earlier cuts?

Is it social media campaigns highlighting the names of rich Tory MPs who voted for the cuts while trousering hundreds of thousands of pounds in Expenses claims?

Is it protests outside the House of Commons by Disabled people? Protests which were, incidentally, not broadcast to the nation because of Government censorship rules.

No, it is none of the above because they all happened and George Osborne announced the further cuts in his Budget anyway.

What it took to reverse the decision was the resignation of a single Government Minister who had, until then, happily persecuted the Unemployed and Disabled and who almost certainly had an ulterior motive for his resignation and used the cuts as a handy excuse to break from the Cameron / Osborne camp so that he can side with Boris in the brexit campaign.

That’s all it took. One man resigning.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not complaining about the cuts being stopped, just about the way they were stopped. The Tories ignored every protest, every bit of proof that their cuts were killing people and causing misery for thousands until it actually affected their own factions. If that’s how British democracy works, I’d rather we lived under a different system or, preferably, a different country.


A Song For Scotland

Posted on March 25th, 2016

By Tcswim

In this time of bitter sorrow

Forget the loss. Work for tomorrow !

Come gie us an honest heartfu’ song?

Tae mak us feel that we belong

Confident aye; Independent? (sigh).

But Listen! From sea and munro

from Kelso to Thurso

On wind and tide

On Tweed, Tay and Clyde

None but ourselves can make us whole

None but ourselves can heal the soul

Let the folk tide bring us hame

Leave behind auld Longdone’s shame

Wi’ it’s Wasteminster arsetocracy;

a politricks hypocrisy;our famed damokracy.

Scotia is still in birthin’ pains

In this big world o’ Adams weans

Let us sing the great song,

That echoes in the bone

sing it like yon Davie’s stone

“Freedom Come all ye"

Cry it on the lonely wind

In housing schemes ahent the blind

On mountain tops let us sing

Feel the spirit a Dr. King

Sing it wi’ drams or cups a tea

Cross glens an toons on oily sea

We can, we should be

Yes dear Lord… mak us free!

Aye, free fae endless poverty

fae a persistent unfair society

from posh-built inequality

an unjust corrupting economy

auld hardships and a false modernity

Bringing new forms of auld misery

Built on shibboleths of prosperity

In a Scotland built by Mundell-Fluffy?

Or some other labour-tory numpty?

No not for you. Not for me.

A Union land of hope and glory?

Not for you…not for me!

Only Scottish sovereignty!

One destiny! LIBERTY!

SNP SNP! Make us FREE!


A Taxing Day

Posted on March 24th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So we’ve heard the SNP’s plans for Income Tax and Labour’s plans for scrapping the Council Tax. Of the two, it must be said Labour’s is the more radical as the SNP demonstrate, once again, that they are not nearly as Left Wing as the media would have you believe.

That media has, of course, been quick to decry the SNP as very bad indeed, castigating them for punishing high earners by not passing on the UK Chancellor’s proposed increase in the higher rate tax threshold while simultaneously wailing that they have not imposed a 50p top rate to get more money out of those high earners. Do you ever get the feeling you just can’t win?

I can understand why the SNP have declined to introduce a 50p tax rate in Scotland when the rest of the UK does not have one, especially since their research suggests that it would only take around 1,000 of the 18,000 or so high rate taxpayers to quit Scotland for the policy to be rendered pointless.

But does taxation cause people to move? Across the world, different countries have different levels of taxation but it does not generally cause mass migration. For example, Poland has much lower rates of tax than the UK but the general movement of population is from Poland to the UK, not the other way around. This is because people move for work. We in Scotland should know this since too many of our young people move to London in search of work in spite of the much higher cost of living there due to high property and rental prices.

On the other hand, Scots tend to pay more for things like fuel and groceries due to higher transportation costs but, again, this hidden cost does not generally cause people to up sticks and move.

In broad terms, then, people move in order to find work, not to escape taxes, so perhaps tax rates are not the driver that the media tell us they are.

There is, however, a major caveat to this. The problem is that wealthy people on high incomes are more likely to move jobs and, all other things being equal, an increase in their tax burden might just persuade many of them to move. This decision will be made easier because relocating from Scotland to England or Wales is much less of an upheaval than moving to, say, Poland.

But it isn’t as simple as that. Would these individuals give up their high pay jobs when they move? If so, somebody else would presumably need to replace them and therefore the tax would be paid, just by a different person. The alternative is that the original jobholder remains in post but commutes from England, thus probably paying more in travel costs than they are saving in tax. That doesn’t seem logical, does it, especially for people for whom money is the principal motivating factor?

The problem is that we won’t know what would actually happen unless we introduce a top rate of 50p. So the SNP have stuck to the cautious centre ground, with just a little tinkering which won’t really affect that many people and means that most will continue to pay the same amount of taxation they have been paying so far.

As for Labour’s Council Tax replacement, that sounds grandiose but actually it’s just a simplification of the existing system since it is based on property values, just like the Council Tax, so it’s not all that radical. In principle, it sounds reasonable, even though it will mean the so-called “Squeezed middle" Labour are always on about paying a lot more than they do at the moment.

My main issue with the proposal is that it takes no account of regional property values. So, for example, someone in a small flat in Edinburgh or Aberdeen, where prices are high, could be paying the same amount as someone living in a three-bedroom detached house in a rural area, or a semi in a town outside theCentral Belt.

Others have gone into the plan in some detail and pointed out its other flaws but, of course, the most important thing to remember about Labour’s proposal is that it doesn’t matter because they haven’t got a hope of being in a position to implement it, even if it had no flaws.

Of course, the problem with taxation is that, whatever system you put in place, someone will be worse off and you can bet the media will be able to track that person down so that they can proclaim the unfairness to the world. (Or, at least, to Scotland).

There is no such thing as a perfect taxation system but we need to get away from this notion that tax is a bad thing. It is essential to the running of the public services we all demand and, quite frankly, those who can afford to pay a bit more should be compelled to do so in order that the burden can be relieved on those who are currently penalised by all sorts of taxation. Not only that, our culture needs a major shift so that those who pay more in tax because they can afford to do so, should take pride in the fact that they are contributing to the overall wellbeing of the country. That’s a long way off but it’s an aspiration to aim for and really should occupy our minds more than simply bickering over tax rates and structures.


When We Were Wee

Posted on March 22nd, 2016

By Tcswim

When we were wee we were forced to ask for pocket-money

“There! That is all you will get Jock-Johnie

Don’t ask for more there isn’t any!"

We hated to beg:-the awfie shame

“And forced to say, ‘thank-you’ to big Daddy."

Oh, how we want to be on oor ain; never to hae tae beg again

Too often oor hand, palm upwards formed a begging bowl

-an empty glass

making us feel shame: a kind of anger in the soul

and in our class

Now turn the hand over

Pull the fingers together

Beg no longer sister or brother

Look! The fist is stronger


Toasting The Lords

Posted on March 21st, 2016

By Tcswim

A toast to the House of Lords

And still they fill the House of Lords/

With greedy privilege & dirty frauds/

All seated on their well paid arses/

Welfare for the ruling classes

Labour henchmen & insiders

Tory bagmen business bribers

Pals of Gideon and Dave lickers

Friends of Charlie, robes nae knickers

Power handed to the unelectable

Noble but not respectable

Clowns in this corrupting circus

With power handed out to fk us

Who will rid us of this vermin

Dressed in arrogance and stained ermine

We can be rid of this subservience

You got it ! Independence!


Still Digging

Posted on March 17th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Everyone knows that old saying about stopping digging when you are in a hole. Everyone except George Osborne, it seems.

On the face of it, his budget yesterday was cautious, unambitious and perhaps even a little populist. It must be said that it contained a handful of measures which few people would grumble about. For example, raising the Personal Allowance is a help to all taxpayers and the cuts to North Sea Oil taxes are both welcome and overdue, even if Gideon couldn’t resist announcing that the SNP are bad when he falsely claimed that such tax cuts could only be granted by the broad shoulders of the UK, completely ignoring the very obvious fact that any sensible Government would have built up an oil fund during the good years so that such measures could be taken without placing any additional stress on the economy during times of low oil prices.

But it is the Sugar Tax that has caused the biggest stir. To be honest, I don’t have too much of a problem with this. Like other measures such as the 5p charge for carrier bags, the smoking ban and the reduction in the Drink / Drive limit, the tax is intended – at least notionally – to alter society’s behaviour by reducing the consumption of readily available soft drinks which contribute to problems of obesity and dental decay which plague society, particularly among the less well off. If it helps address some of the problem then it is a good idea and, quite frankly, it is worth trying but it must be acknowledged that there is a risk that, like Tobacco Duty on cigarettes, it may not reduce consumption and might become simply another way of raising taxes. All in all, though, I think this tax needs to be tried.

Gideon’s master stroke has been to focus attention on this “Sugar Tax" and thus deflect scrutiny from his other measures. It is in these other aspects of the Budget that we see Osborne’s lack of imagination and adherence to Tory ideology.

First of all, he has continued his attacks on the Disabled. Those people who are on reasonable incomes who might be celebrating the rise in the 40p tax threshold might want to consider that the money they will save is effectively being taken from the pockets of Disabled people who can barely afford the cut to their Benefits. This is pure Tory ideology, as is the proposed cut to Corporation Tax which will mean that companies will be paying a lower tax rate than the consumers who pay VAT on the goods and services the Companies provide.

As with so many Tory measures, the burden of taxation is being switched to the general public, with the better off benefitting most and the Disabled being unfairly targeted once again.

But, although these measures are deplorable from a societal point of view, they are not the worst aspect of the Budget. Put simply, Osborne has stuck to his Austerity agenda when the majority of economists have long been saying that contracting the economy by cutting Government spending is only going to exacerbate the problems of slwoing growth and declining tax revenues. This is Osborne’s greatest failing and, while he will insist that any problems are due to international factors, the truth is that the UK economy is struggling mostly as a result of his own stubborn refusal to abandon a failing policy. It’s a short-sighted view which will only lead to further economic problems as tax revenue continues to fall. That will make Osborne’s Deficit reduction programme more difficult to achieve which will result in him cutting spending even further, which will continue the downward spiral as tax revenue slumps even further. This is a time when the economy should be stimulated, not held in check.

Quite simply, Osborne is in a hole and he is still digging.


Spot The Difference

Posted on March 14th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

I’m pleased to hear that Nicola Sturgeon plans a charm offensive to push the positive case for Scottish independence and win over enough No voters to swing the next Referendum – whenever that comes about. It is about time the Scottish Government took a positive stance on this and stopped simply reacting to Unionist attacks. We have seen over the past eighteen months that most of the scare stories and lovebombing we were subjected to during the IndieRef campaign were little more than bluster and lies, so the next campaign, when it begins, really ought to put the pressure on the unionists to explain what is so good about Tory rule and austerity, waging war against Muslim countries and strutting about on the world stage as if Britain still possessed an Empire.

However, wile I welcome the news, I believe Nicola Sturgeon has a difficult task ahead of her. That is because, as the recent media frenzy over the latest GERS figures has shown, there is and always has been one major and fundamental difference between the attitudes of Yes and No voters. Put simply, the vast majority of Unionists are enthralled by money and finances. Nothing else matters to them and appeals to broader issues such as equality or a fairer society mean nothing to them.

Money is important, of course, and it would be foolish to deny this but, as many of us have learned over the past few years, much of the rhetoric spouted by politicians is wildly inaccurate because their comparisons of a nation’s finances with a household budget are utterly meaningless. As many commentators and economists have pointed out, a country’s finances do not operate in the same way as a household budget.

Sadly, this reality will not prevent Unionist politicians and journalists repeating the false claims ad nauseam and those who have grown up under and benefitted from a system where the acquisition of wealth and material goods is the only purpose in life are going to be difficult to persuade that a fairer redistribution of wealth would actually benefit the entire country.

It’s going to be a long, hard slog and we all need to keep spreading the word that the prospects for Scotland would be much brighter if it could break free of the stifling Westminster rule that has, after three centuries, left our nation apparently impoverished to such an extent that, uniquely among the nations of the world, we would not be able to survive on our own.


Tory Values

Posted on March 10th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So the SNP are being blamed for defeating the Tory Bill which would amend Sunday Trading hours in England and Wales.

There is no doubt that, whatever excuses the SNP puts forward for voting against this, it has political repercussions in widening the divide between England and Scotland and in fostering the mutual antagonism between the two countries but there are a few points which I think it is worth making.

First of all, as far as I can gather, this Bill was not deemed to be English only under the EVEL measures the Tories brought in. If that is the case, it is either a blunder of huge proportions by the Tory Government or a tacit admission that there is indeed a knock on effect on Scottish workers’ rights. On which point, those SMP concerns could surely have been addressed by granting some sort of opt out to the Scottish Government but, of course, it is not Westminster policy to devolve power over workers’ rights. This gave the SNP the opportunity to claim a reason to vote on the matter and, let’s face it, if they are elected MPs, why should they not vote?

Secondly, we must not forget that 56 MPs cannot prevent the Tories pushing through any laws they like since they have an absolute majority. For this Bill to be defeated, Labour had to change their habit of abstaining on everything and actively oppose it – which they did because the Unions were very much against the proposal.

Even that would not have been enough, though. What tipped the balance was the 27 Tory MPs who voted against the measure on the grounds that Sunday was a traditional family day.

The headlines should therefore be more focused on the Tory rebels than the SNP but that, of course, is not how the media works in Scotland.

There is, though, one additional comment I’d like to make on this and it’s something others have mentioned online, and that is the attitude of the Tory rebels. These people must have very skewed moral values since they are quite prepared to vote down a Bill on Sunday Trading in order to preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath but they would not vote against measures which reduced ESA payments to disabled people by £30 per week. Maybe that’s one of those British Values we keep hearing about.


Migrant crisis?

Posted on March 7th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Some readers might recall Norman Tebbitt, a member of Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet, telling unemployed Britons to get on their bikes and look for work. In other words, the very essence of the market-driven Tory philosophy is that people should be economic migrants.

Yet what happens when millions of migrants turn up wanting into Europe? The word, “migrant" becomes a term of abuse. Maybe it’s because they are walking instead of riding bicycles that they are viewed as not properly following the Tory creed of migrating to find work. Heaven forfend that the sole reason they are denigrated so much is that they are foreigners.

But wait a moment. Are these people economic migrants? Well, a few of them might be but they will be a tiny minority because the vast bulk of these people are refugees from a war zone and the most appallingly stupid comment from today’s Tory Cabinet Ministers is that these people will remain at home if they are sent back. Seriously? You expect people to live in a war zone? A war in which, it must not be forgotten, the UK is playing an enthusiastic part by dropping bombs, using drones and supplying weapons and munitions to Saudi Arabia.

The fact that the Tory Press and the BBC in particular refer to these people as migrants is a repeated attempt to portray them as evil foreigners intent on taking British jobs and claiming British benefits. This perception could not be further from the truth but the BBC continues to call them migrants in an ongoing attempt to demonise them.

David Cameron, of course, has not been slow to use this human tragedy for political ends by making the absurd claim that the reason the UK has not been inundated with migrants is that the UK is not part of the Shengen free movement territory and so is able to protect its borders. It must have escaped Call Me Dave’s notice that Britain is an island and therefore more difficult to reach.

Having said that, one wonders how long it will be before some enterprising French fishermen begin transporting refugees across the channel. If they did, the Tories should applaud such enterprising initiative but they probably wouldn’t do that because, well, the French are foreigners.

The most concerning thing here is the attitude of nearly all the European countries. Only a small fraction of the Syrian refugees are heading for Europe. Most go to Lebanon, where around 25% of the population is made up of refugees. Yes, that’s 25%! Yet Europe’s response is to build fences and hire more security guards to keep refugees out while the politicians hold emergency summits to discuss what should be done about what they insist on calling a Migrant Crisis. The one thing you can be sure of is that not a single one of them will come up with the suggestion that we should maybe stop bombing their country and supplying arms to the rebel forces. OK, President assad is not a nice person but surely this crisis has reached the stage where peace is more important than the political leanings of the local dictator.

The whole sorry mess is typical of Western European attitudes to the Middle East. We created the mess but when people try to escape from the horror we caused, we wash our hands of it and do our best to keep them out.

There is no easy solution to this disaster but one can’t help thinking that our politicians seem hell bent on making the whole thing worse.


WordWatch

Posted on March 3rd, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

One of the enduring complaints many Scots have is the tendency among some English public figures to misuse the terms “British" and “English". It’s a point of apparently petty annoyance but words are important and how they are used can influence people.

The terms “Britain" and “British" are particularly troublesome since Britain is a geographical area and everyone born on the islands can be termed British. The problem arises because the official name of the United Kingdom is Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is a bit of a mouthful and therefore usually shortened to “Britain" for convenience.

However, the conflation of the terms, “England" and “Britain" stems from the Victorian era when the Empire grew to its greatest extent. Many writers of the time use the terms interchangeably and this deep-rooted habit dies hard for many.

Of course, different people have different ideas of what “British" means. We naturally tend to associate it with our own experiences but a problem arises because what those who live in the culturally dominant South East of England mean when they say “British" is not what many people from other regions of the UK mean. However, with control of the media, this South East England vision of Britain has been imposed all across the UK and is often presented to foreign visitors as the exemplar of what Britain is.

But why raise this now? Only a few public figures ever actually make the mistake of employing the wrong word these days, don’t they?

You would think so, wouldn’t you? But, sadly, the Tory vision of One Nation is gradually creeping into TV programming, especially on the BBC. You may have noticed the growing number of Union Flags appearing in TV shows and certainly many people have commented on the number of programmes with “British" in their title. Those, however, are small issues compared with what I saw recently when I watched a BBC Timewatch Special on the life of Queen Elizabeth I.

There is no denying that Elizabeth I was an important figure in British history, her influence and the result of her dying childless having a profound effect on Scotland as well as England. The trouble with this particular programme, which was allegedly a historical documentary, is that the presenter seemed very confused about which nation Elizabeth I was ruler of. There was much talk of “Our Nation" which was fair enough given that the presenter was English, although the BBC is supposed to broadcast all across the UK so the presentation was a little patronising. There were some references to England but there were even more to Britain and anyone with no knowledge of Elizabeth’s reign would have been forgiven for thinking that she ruled a United Kingdom of Great Britain. This was brought to a head when the presenter proudly proclaimed that Elizabeth developed the British Navy and that Britain defeated the Spanish armada.

Wow! Talk about rewriting history. It must be admitted that the English Navy which was really begun by Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, became the mainstay of the British Navy but the ships Elizabeth built were English, not British, and it was the English Navy which defeated the Armada because Scotland was not at war with Spain.

It is one thing for British Nationalists to portray their own values of what it means to be British but an organisation like the BBC really ought to take more care when presenting what is supposed to be a factual account of historical events but which actually turned out to be little more than British propaganda. It is bad enough that I can’t watch BBC News because of its bias but when the documentaries fall to such low standards of accuracy it really makes me wonder whether it is worth watching the BBC at all.


Scottish Six

Posted on February 26th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So a Scottish Six is back on the agenda despite having been resisted for decades, the principal objection seeming to be that Scots are incapable of producing a genuinely national and international news programme without turning it into some sort of parochial pastiche of The Broons or Gregor Fisher’s portrayal of the Outer Hebrides Broadcasting Corporation.

To counter these claims, Stuart Cosgrove has written a truly excellent piece for Bella Caledonia and, if you haven’t read it already, you can find it at:

http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/02/25/dont-cringe-in-my-backyard/

On the other hand, Derek Bateman, who used to work for BBC News, has highlighted some of the issues such a programme would face although these are, as ever, more political than practical. You can read his article at:

http://derekbateman.co.uk/2016/02/25/but-is-it-news/

Of these two views, Stuart Cosgrove’s is the more positive but I fear he will be proved wrong. There is a good reason a Scottish Six has been resisted and it is because the London-controlled BBC do not want to relinquish editorial control because it could be seen as yet another step on the road to Scottish independence. The Scottish Press are vocal in their derision of the very idea of a Scottish Six, claiming that Scots are incapable of producing such a programme without the benefit of the London media lens to interpret global events for them but, of course, the Scottish Press, almost universally Unionist in outlook, also have a vested interest in ensuring that Scots only see the world as filtered by London, a task which the majority of journalists appear to believe the newspapers do entirely adequately despite the continuing slump in their sales which, in any other industry would suggest to the management that something is very wrong indeed with the product they are serving up.

As for a Scottish Six, there is no technical reason why Scotland could not produce this successfully but there is one major obstacle and that is the BBC themselves. London will not relinquish control easily and any programme served up will probably be intended either to fail to deliver what people want from a truly national and international news service or, more likely, will become just another tool for the Unionist Establishment to ram Westminster propaganda down our throats. Despite Stuart Cosgrove’s optimism, I foresee a programme which will be heavy on stories about the Royal family and the happenings at Westminster, with international news being restricted to items confirming how evil foreigners are. IN fact, when you put it like that, it does rather suggest that the narrow-minded, insular and parochial news is already being serve up by BBC London on a regular basis. Quite what difference a Scottish Six would make is difficult to identify, except that there would be a lot more stories about which Old Firm footballer / manager / ex-player / fan had said what about which other Old Firm footballer / manager / ex-player / fan. Quite honestly, I could do without that. So, if a Scottish Six does become a reality, I suspect I will stick to my current policy of never watching the BBC News because of its enormous propaganda content.


Hobson's Choice

Posted on February 24th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The EURef is going to be horrible and many of us probably feel like outsiders because the two sides are, essentially, two tribes of Tories carrying out their great dream of arguing over Europe and dragging the entire country into the debate.

Not that it is going to be much of a debate. Tories being what they are, they only understand one tactic and that is scaremongering. Both sides are going to do it and the media will egg them on, providing ever more lurid and sensational claims about the merits of remaining or, more likely, leaving.

What can we do? Not a lot, to be honest. Cameron has shown his usual contempt for the so-called family of nations by setting a date for the EURef which suits England but doesn’t suit any of the other three countries. We’re going to have to fight the Holyrood elections under the shadow of the EURef which the BBC will ensure takes precedence.

On the plus side, there is not really much incentive to listen to the xenophobic ranting of the Outers or the patent scaremongering of the Inners. It will be Project Fear all over again but the simple truth is that Scotland should vote to stay in the EU either to trigger a second IndieRef or to ensure that we stay in so that we don’t need to negotiate rejoining when we do become independent.

Some people may be worried about aligning themselves with Cameron and Osborne but we need to put those concerns aside. After all, look at who is on the other side; Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan Smith and George Galloway. Take comfort that you’ll be opposing them.

And to those who say that the arguments for leaving the EU are the same as the arguments Yes used in claims for Scottish independence, I’d point out that there is one major difference. Whatever the Outers might say, the UK is already a sovereign state, with representation in all sorts of international organisations from the EU to the UN. Scotland isn’t. WE do not have sovereign state status. So, while the arguments may sound the same and be presented in the same way, there is a world of a difference.

So let’s take the chance to sit back and have a laugh at the pathetic, small-minded xenophobia of Little England as the EURef becomes ever more bizarre and outrageous. That way we can avoid the stress and hopefully end up with the result that we need.


So Special

Posted on February 22nd, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Everyone likes to feel special. It gives us a nice, warm glow when we receive treatment that is above and beyond what we expected. Equally, however, nobody likes hearing someone else demand special treatment simply because of who they are. Nothing gets up our noses more than hearing someone whine, “Don’t you know who I am?"

Which is why the spectacle of David Cameron returning from his EU renegotiation summit proudly proclaiming that the UK would be given special status within the EU was not so much reminiscent of the triumpal begotiations of a skilled diplomat as of a spoilt six-year-old having a tantrum at a children’s party and demanding more treats than everyone else because ... well, because they’re special.

It is, of course, a feature of the British Establishment psyche to believe that Britain is superior to all other nations and should be accorded special treatment on the rather peculiar grounds that we’ve spent several centuries invading other countries and telling them how to behave while exploiting their people and resources for our own benefit. Quite why this makes us special is a bit of a mystery.

A bigger mystery is why the other members of the EU put up with this pathetic attitude and seem to bend over backwards to massage Cameron’s ego in an attempt to keep the UK in the EU. Yes, it may well be about the money and it may also be down to typical political pride in that they don’t want to see the EU break up at all but the entire charade was hardly an edifying spectacle. Of course, the EU may well intend to do to Cameron what he did to Scotland by making promises which they will fail to keep as soon as they’ve got the Referendum result they want. Now, wouldn’t that be fitting?


Shifting Boundaries

Posted on February 13th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The Tory Government at Westminster are pushing through changes to electoral boundaries and this is causing a bit of a stir. However, it must be said that the current arrangement is extremely unfair in what is already a poor attempt at democracy using the First Past The Post voting system.

So what is it the Tories are trying to change and why? Well, it seems that the current constituency boundaries mean that some MPs have as few as 30,000 voters in their constituency while others have over 100,000. That is patently unfair because it could mean that an MP gains 100% of the vote in his small constituency and is elected despite having received fewer votes than a losing candidate in a much larger constituency. The Tories want to redraw the boundaries so that every constituency has roughly the same number of voters.

It must be said that this idea seems practical and fair – within the undemocratic system of FPTP. But if you are going to have a FPTP voting system, it should at least ensure that each MP has roughly the same number of constituents.

So, fair enough, the Tories have a valid reason for making the changes. They are, of course, putting a cost-saving spin on it by claiming that the overall number of MPs will reduce from 650 to 600. That may sound like a good idea but dressing it up as saving taxpayers’ money is a typical Cameron misdirection. When you consider how many additional members of the House Of Lords he has put in place, the overall number of legislators, and the cost of maintaining them, will have increased despite any cut in the number of MPs. In fact, there are already more unelected lawmakers than elected ones in the UK Parliament. That’s not what most people would regard as democratic.

However, the biggest problem with this proposal, and another reason the Tories want to push it through before the next General Election, is that the region of the UK which will return most MPs is the region which is most densely populated, i.e. London and the South east of England. And guess where the Tories get most of their support from? Less densely populated areas like Scotland will return fewer MPs and so have even less influence than they have now, if such a thing were possible.

So, if this change goes through, and there seems every likelihood that it will, we face the prospect of permanent Tory Governments. Isn’t that a scary thought? What a pity we had no way of escaping this rule by the Plutocracy.


Pure Scunnered

Posted on February 10th, 2016

By Jimmy

Ah’m pure scunnered. Ma Facebook timeline has been fu’ o’ folk grumblin’ aboot the Scottish Government makin’ cuts to cooncil budgets. Now, Ah dinnae mind folk haein’ a winge but what gets ma goat is that these are the same folk who insisted we needed tae vote No in the IndieRef even though they kent full weel that this would mean cuts tae the Scottish budget.

Whit Ah’d like tae ken is whit these numpties use for brains. If thon pointy-lugged chap fae Star Trek was still aroond, he’d mebbe gie them a lesson in logic but all Ah can say is, “Gie’s a break!".


On Second Thoughts

Posted on February 3rd, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Having condemned Kezia Dugdale’s proposed 1p tax rise yesterday, I’ve had time to give the matter some second thoughts. In the interests of being fair to Scottish Labour, I have slightly amended my view.

Being totally honest, anyone with a moral conscience should not object to contributing a bit more in tax if it benefits the wider society they live in. Our propensity to demand lower taxes is a symptom of the selfish, greed-driven mindset which has dominated the UK for the past three and half decades and it’s about time we tried to change that perspective. When you ask yourself why £10 per month is better off in your pocket than in helping to fund schools, hospitals and other essential public services, complaining about a 1p tax rise makes you look more than a bit selfish.

But that’s about as far as my approval goes because there are a lot of issues around Labour’s proposal.

First of all, let’s not forget that the “Me First" culture is deeply ingrained in our society where a great many people have grown up knowing no other political philosophy. Don’t forget that, during the IndieRef, a poll revealed that many Scots would base their decision not on what they thought was best for the country as a whole but on whether they would personally be £10 a week worse off. That was risible at the time but it was also a revealing insight into how too many people make political decisions. However much we might deride such a standpoint, though, it is a fact of life and, from this perspective, Scottish Labour really ought to have sold their tax plan a bit more wisely. Simply telling people that 1 out of 4 workers would not pay any extra tax doesn’t cut it. If you want to persuade people to go along with tax rises, you really need to work hard at educating them as to your reasons.

Whatever Labour’s reasons, though, their new policy simply won’t work because it would hit the poorest in society hard. Their proposal for a rebate for the lowest paid workers shows that they understand this but what they have completely failed to acknowledge is that the so-called extensive new powers which might or might not be granted to the Scottish Government do not include any provision for authorising tax rebates, so it would need to be an entirely new system which administered these rebates which might themselves be taxed. And let’s not forget, as I pointed out yesterday, there is still no guarantee that any additional tax revenues would actually benefit Scotland in any case.

Naturally, the thing opponents of Labour’s plan have concentrated on is its impact on the lowest paid. While paying a bit more tax may be the socially responsible thing to do, £10 per month is a lot of money to far too many people and could make the difference between scraping by and needing to rely on a food bank. That’s why any tax increases need to be progressive, passing the burden onto those who can most afford it. But the devolved tax arrangements which the Scottish Government do have are insufficient to allow the introduction of progressive tax increases. With our extensive new powers, it’s everybody or nobody who gets hit by a tax increase. This, as mentioned yesterday, is the Tory tax trap which Kezia has blundered into.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Labour’s position on this is ironic in the extreme. Having spent the better part of two years telling Scots to vote to be controlled by Westminster or we would pay more in tax, they are now trying to tell us we need to pay more tax because we are controlled by Westminster. Honestly, the script writers for Yes, Prime Minister would have struggled to come up with something so breathtakingly inept. When you add this to the failure to understand just how much people have been conditioned to react negatively to higher taxes, Labour’s plan becomes farcical.

In summary, then, I think the proposed tax increase is morally justified, practically unworkable and politically inept. That’s about as favourable a view I can take on it. Not that it really matters, since Labour’s chances of forming the next Scottish Government are minimal at best and this half-baked policy is one of the reasons why.


A Penny For Your Thoughts

Posted on February 2nd, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

You’d think Scottish Labour would have learned by now that going along with the Tories is a bad idea but no, they still don’t seem to have learned the lesson of Better Together because Kezia Dugdale is now calling for an increase of 1p on Scottish Income Tax in order to offset Tory cuts to the Scottish budget.

Needless to say, this Labour policy announcement has been prominently featured by BBC Scotland, with Kezia playing the line that, faced with either using the new powers of the Scottish Government or implementing Tory cuts, she’d rather use the powers.

This is disingenuous on several levels.

For a start, Kezia’s chances of being First Minister after the Holyrood elections are, thankfully, minimal, so it’s easy to announce a policy which you know you will never be required to implement.

Secondly, although Scottish taxpayers are all having new Tax Code identifiers applied, there still doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory fiscal arrangement to ensure that any additional taxes actually flow through to the Scottish Government. That’s a technicality which will hopefully be sorted soon but it’s a pretty big technicality.

Thirdly, there is a fundamental contradiction in any policy like this. Having spent the IndieRef campaign insisting that Scotland must be run from Westminster, Labour are now proposing to penalise Scottish taxpayers for having voted the way they wanted us to. It’s hardly an endorsement of the “Better Together" mantra as it seems Scots will actually be “Worse Off Together". Thanks, Labour.

Finally, and most importantly, Kezia is playing the Tory game. How often have you heard Cameron and Osborne issue challenges to the SNP to use their extensive new powers and stop complaining? Putting aside the fact that the new powers are only extensive in the imaginations of the Tories and the Scottish media, this is exactly what the Tories want. They reason that Scottish voters will soon become fed up of the SNP Government if they are paying higher taxes than any other citizens of the UK. Desperate to return to the safety of the UK, voters will kick the SNP out, a Unionist Party will replace them and all will be well with the Tory world. Of course, the Scottish electorate might not see it that way and an increase in Income Tax might just have the opposite effect, forcing people to confront the issue of whether we would be better off as an independent country. However, that is a moot point since, so far at least, the SNP do not seem inclined to test the matter.

As for Kezia, she’s doing the Tories’ work for them, painting a picture of Scotland as the highest tax region among the nations of the UK. She’s walked straight into the trap the Tories have set and she’s done so willingly. If we give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she is not completely stupid, the only other conclusion must be that she is happy to play the stooge for her Better Together chums by doing their work for them and, in so doing, has hammered another nail in the coffin of Scottish Labour.


A Question Of Sovereignty

Posted on January 30th, 2016

By Dan Iron

It's now looking likely that the promised referendum to decide whether the United Kingdom either leaves or remains in the European Union will take place sometime in 2016.

Recent opinion polls have shown that it is a possibility, but only a possibility, that Scotland will vote to remain, while the UK as a whole will vote to leave.

Of course it's early days, but we in the Independence movement and the Scottish government should work out a position to take if that is the outcome.

Nicola Sturgeon has already said that if there were to be an overall vote to leave, then each constituent part of the UK would have to vote to leave too. We can expand on this position by saying:-

1. We have voted to remain citizens of the EU.

2. In 2014 we voted to remain citizens of the UK.

3. We assert that the people of Scotland are sovereign.

The principled stance would therefore be that we stand up for our rights as a sovereign people. Our citizenship of both the UK and the EU cannot be removed without our consent. This will be supporting the rights of all the people of Scotland not just those supporting independence. A motion to this effect should be brought before the Scottish parliament. The unionist parties would therefore be forced to come to a decision. Either they support the motion or explicitly reject the idea of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland. This will bring the idea of sovereignty into sharp focus, something that should have been more discussed during the Independence referendum campaign.

We then await developments. If the UK government proceeds with withdrawing from the EU it will be they who will be removing our rights as citizens of the EU. The unionists will probably go along with this. However there will be a large number of people, the people who are not committed to the Union, but who voted No in 2014, who will be forced to make a decision. There will be no "status quo" option. Of course, we don't know what their reaction will be. We might hope that there will be a demand from them for another Independence referendum. The committed unionist, on the other hand, will be forced to deny our sovereignty explicitly. They will find it difficult to remain "proud Scots but".

We have no way of knowing how this scenario will play out but it will be the principled position to take.


Fighting The System

Posted on January 28th, 2016

By Lynne

Back in September of 2015, I wrote about how my daughter, who suffers from dwarfism, had lost her Disability Living Allowance when she turned 16 and had been refused any help under the Personal Independence Payment, usually known as PIP. You can read the original article at:

http://rbs.postach.io/post/too-much-to-ask

I was devastated by this news, not to mention the severe financial impact it had on me and my family. Not only did we lose the Motability car we needed to help my daughter get around, I also had my Carer’s Allowance stopped because the DWP had decided my daughter was not disabled and so did not require any care.

Fortunately for me, there are some caring people who were prepared to help me take on the DWP. My MP, Hannah Bardell, quickly got on the case and she and her assistant, marcus Woods, contacted the DWP several times. Marcus also advised me that my daughter should have been classed as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 and should have been entitled to some transitional arrangements while moving from DLA to PIP. Needless to say, the DWP did nothing about this. As you might expect, they were also very uncooperative and their responses to my MP always avoided answering the main questions they were asked.

As for the actual decision, the DWP awarded my daughter 6 points for Care Needs and 4 points for Mobility, neither of which was enough to give her any financial support. When they were challenged on this, they claimed that the ATOS nurse had carried out a musculoskeletal examination of my daughter but this never happened. The ATOS nurse merely asked questions and observed my daughter’s movements. Her alleged examination consisted of asking my daughter to stand up in the living room and take two steps. Nevertheless, there were some alarming discrepancies between what the ATOS nurse reported from her very limited observations and what the DWP Decision Maker wrote. For example, the Decision Maker told my daughter:

"The musculoskeletal examination carried out and also the observations made at your consultation did not indicate that you have any significant impairment of your upper or lower limbs, spinal flexion, manual dexterity or grip."

However what the nurse actually reported to the DWP was:

"She requires the use of aids to manage this activity reliably which is consistent with symptoms of her achodroplaysia. informal observations showed she struggled to get on and off the couch and that her limbs were visibly shorter and MSO showed movements were slow."

She continued:

"Functional history shows she uses a stool and her parents help her into shower and lay out what she needs. Medical history shows she is shorter than 4 Foot and had visibly shorter limbs and MSO showed her shoulder abduction was reduced and movements were slow."

As an aside, it was interesting that the so-called experts managed to spell achondroplasia incorrectly throughout their reports.

The DWP’s decision seemed utterly bizarre since anyone who is not blind can see that my daughter’s arms are only half the length of fully grown arms, as the ATOS nurse confirmed in writing. However, this complete disregard for the medical facts did help us prove the deficiency of the DWP’s decision when we went to the Appeal hearing.

More on the Appeal later. When it came to the actual process, my local Council’s Advice Shop were brilliant in helping us complete the appeal form and also provided someone to help represent us at the hearing.

However, I still needed to do a lot of work myself. I obtained a written report from our GP, detailing my daughter’s problems, along with a Diagnosis Sheet from her back specialist and an Advice & Information note from the Restricted Growth Association which detailed all the issues people suffering from dwarfism can experience.

The Appeal was heard on Tuesday 12th January and it was quite an ordeal. Without me being there and without the Support Worker from the Advice Shop, it would have been terrifying for my daughter as she faced questions from a panel of three men, one of whom was a doctor. He fired lots of questions at her in a manner she found quite intimidating. Maybe he was just trying to do a thorough job of understanding all the issues she faces but she was very nervous under his questioning. It was particularly embarrassing and degrading for a sixteen year old disabled girl to have to explain to three middle-aged men about the problems she has when taking a bath or shower or when going to the toilet. It’s not an experience many adults would like to face and I know my daughter would never have coped if we had not been there to support her.

Fortunately, my daughter’s disability is so obvious and we had produced so much medical evidence and had demonstrated the complete inadequacy of the assessment that the panel overturned the initial decision. Instead of being awarded 6 points on the PIP Care component, she was awarded 14 points, enough to qualify for the Higher Rate. She was also awarded 8 points for Mobility, giving her the Standard Rate which wasn’t what we’d hoped for but is an awful lot better than the 4 points and no Benefit awarded initially.

So things have, after more than three very stressful months, worked out pretty well. I’ll even be able to claim my Carer’s Allowance again which will be a great help. I am so grateful to everyone who helped us through this pretty dreadful experience but that’s the main thing I’d like people to take from this story; that it is a dreadful experience. People with real physical disabilities are being penalised by faceless bureaucrats who make decisions that are totally at odds with the medical evidence. We’ve been very fortunate because there are plenty of other people who are being refused any assistance from the DWP despite having very real problems.

The Appeal process itself is a real ordeal. You need to fight every step of the way and gather together as much medical evidence as you can. It’s hard, hard work and, without the support of people like my MP and her assistant, our GP and especially the Council’s Advice Shop, we would never have managed to get this far. And that’s the real issue here. What used to be regarded as normal, compassionate care for the least able in our society has become a grudging benefit that needs to be fought for. Is that really the sort of society we want?


A Simple Challenge

Posted on January 25th, 2016

By Blind Pew

We all know that the Tories are on a self-appointed mission to make life as unbearable as possible for the most vulnerable in our society but their latest idea is outrageous and has obviously been thought up by someone with no conception of what it means to be disabled. What they have suggested is that people who are visually impaired should have the Care Component of Personal Independence Payment reduced or cut altogether if those people have gadgets and equipment which help them adapt to daily living.

Now, before you start muttering to yourself that this might be a good idea, let’s put things into perspective. I am completely blind and I use quite a few gadgets to help me cope with my sight loss. For example, I have a talking watch, liquid level indicators to tell me when I have reached the top of the cup when pouring liquid, a white stick to avoid bumping into things and, of course, special software on my PC which talks to me and lets me know what I am typing. There are plenty of other gadgets available depending on an individual’s specific needs, including things like talking microwave ovens, one of the pieces of equipment the Tories have cited as meaning that a blind person needs less financial assistance.

but here’s the rub. The PC software I use cost me over £1,000. I believe the price has come down a bit over the past few years but, even excluding VAT, which blind people do not need to pay on such goods, the current version still costs around £860. A talking microwave costs around £225, about seven times the cost of the cheapest standard microwave oven. The obvious question, therefore, is how a blind person is supposed to be able to afford these items if their PIP Benefit is to be reduced.

However, it is not only about the money. As usual, the Tories have based their decision on a complete failure to appreciate the issues a blind person faces. There is plenty of research evidence that confirms the sense people most fear losing is their eyesight, and there is a good reason for that. A great many visually impaired people manage to do quite extraordinary things but the problem with citing blind people who climb mountains or go skydiving or pursue careers in professional fields is that these people are the exception, not the rule. The majority of blind or visually impaired people are elderly, often with other infirmities in conjunction with their sight loss and a great many of them live alone, with little income except a pension and their PIP. They need all the assistance they can get and, even with a plethora of gadgets, life isn’t exactly easy.

To give just one example, even if you have a talking microwave, how do you know what it is you are putting in it? How can you read the cooking instructions on the packet? How do you get the contents out of the packaging and onto a plate without spilling it? Some people might find ways to do these things but those people will be in a minority, not the majority.

The other thing to bear in mind is that even when you buy a gadget that will talk to you, you almost always need a sighted person to set it up for you. Only a very few come ready to use.

I could go on listing all sorts of things like that but I’ll settle for issuing a challenge to Iain Duncan Smith and any of his DWP associates. I’d like them to be presented with the task of making a cheese and tomato sandwich. I’ll allow them to have someone place in front of them a loaf of sliced bread, a tub of margarine or butter, a block of cheese, a tomato and a couple of knives of varying sharpness. Then I’d like them to wear a blindfold and make the sandwich without any assistance. There are, as you can see, no special gadgets or pieces of equipment involved but I’m willing to bet they will struggle to cope with this simplest of tasks. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. Then imagine what it must be like to prepare and cook an entire meal for yourself if you can’t see.

The other disturbing aspect about the plan to curb payments if specialist equipment is available is that it could easily be applied to other disabilities. Are the Tories going to suggest that a person who is confined to a wheelchair should have their Mobility Component reduced or removed on the grounds that they are capable of getting around by themselves? That’s obviously preposterous but it’s the same principle. I hope I haven’t given the Tories an idea there but hopefully that comparison shows just how dreadful this latest plan is.

The most worrying thing is that, while this proposal is only in a consultation phase just now, we all know that the Tories never listen to any objections and it will almost certainly be pushed through over any arguments. Still, I would encourage any visually impaired person to contact their MP and make them aware of why this proposal should be strongly resisted. To adapt an old cliché, this sort of thing is the thin edge of what could turn out to be a very large wedge.

And if anyone reading this does take up the blind sandwich-making challenge, I’d be interested to know how they get on.


That Second Vote

Posted on January 15th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

There is a move by some in the media, and especially BBC Scotland, to mislead people over the voting system for the Holyrood elections. Each voter will have two votes and there is a tendency by some reporters to refer to a “Second Vote", giving the impression, although they obviously never actually say so, that this vote is for your second preference after you have cast your main vote.

This is absolutely wrong. Each voter will be able to vote for a Constituency MSP, in exactly the same way as they would vote for a Westminster MP. The other vote is for a Regional List, in which each voter votes for the Party of his or her choice, with MSPs being elected from a list nominated by each Party. The actual method of calculation of how many Regional MSPs are elected from each Party is designed to ensure a more proportional Parliament and prevent any one party gaining an absolute majority. You can see a full description of how it works at:

http://wingsoverscotland.com/ams-for-lazy-people/

There is much debate on social media about tactical voting and whether pro-Indie supporters would be wasting their Regional vote by voting for the SNP since that Party is expected to do extremely well in the Constituency votes. The important thing to remember, though, is that there is absolutely nothing to stop you voting for the same Party with both votes and, indeed, it seems a bizarre suggestion to vote for some alternative Party with your Regional List vote unless you genuinely do want to give a smaller Party like the greens some representation.

Be very careful about how you listen to news reports. Many reporters will try to give you the impression that you cannot vote for the same Party with both votes. This is completely wrong. The Scottish Parliament is made up of Constituency and Regional List MSPs and you are entitled to vote for the representatives you want from both categories. Do not listen to anyone who tries to tell you anything different and please do spread the word to anyone who is confused about the system.

On the same theme, some people have reservations about the Regional List system since it means that some MSPs are elected without their personal views being scrutinised by the electorate. In other words, if you vote for the SNP in a Regional List vote, you have no idea how many MSPs that Party will gain from the List, nor will you have much opportunity to speak to them beforehand in order to find out whether you believe they would be a good representative for your Region.

This is a perfectly valid argument but any system of proportional representation is going to present this sort of issue and, in practice, it probably doesn’t make much difference to the bulk of the electorate. The Tories, to give them credit, have realised this in their latest election pamphlet which urges voters to use their Regional List vote to elect Ruth Davidson. This is, on the face of it, an odd statement since Ruth Davidson, unwilling to put herself up for election as a Constituency MSP because she knows she’d probably lose, is standing on the Regional List for Edinburgh & The Lothians, so people outside of that region cannot vote for her. But the Tories have understood the essential thing. Most voters vote for a Party leader, not for an individual representative. They vote for a Party and expect the local representative to adhere to the policies set out by the Party leader. This is not true for every voter, of course, because some people do vote for an individual representative rather than the Party that person stands for but, by and large, voters choose a Party to elect. The fact that there is a Constituency vote in the Holyrood elections allows voters the option of choosing a personal representative as well as voting for a Party on the regional List. To borrow a much hated phrase amongst Yessers, it’s the best of both worlds. Well, maybe not the best but it’s a decent enough compromise.

But, once again, don’t forget that you can vote for the same Party twice. You have two votes and both of them count; it is not a First and Second preference, so don’t be fooled by the subtle misrepresentation in the media.


Cause & Effect

Posted on January 13th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So growth in the economy has slowed and the Scottish media were quick to put the blame on the low oil price.

Now, I’m an amateur when it comes to economics, but something didn’t quite ring true about this.

Economies are complex things and even expert economists disagree about how they operate, so pinning the blame for poor growth on the oil price seemed a bit simplistic. Nobody can deny, of course, that the slump in oil prices has had a profound effect on the oil and gas industry, particularly in areas like North East Scotland where the extraction costs of oil now exceed the price per barrel that can be obtained. The effect on the people involved has been pretty horrendous, with BP announcing just yesterday that they are making another six hundred people redundant. That’s on top of the thousands of jobs already shed in Scotland alone, never mind in the rest of the world.

But does this downturn explain the poor UK growth figures? I would have thought that every other sector of the economy would see some sort of uplift from the low oil price, particularly when you consider the howls of anguish from businesses when oil first hit $100 per barrel because this would increase their costs.

The low oil price should be having other effects. We have seen lower petrol prices at the pumps and lower costs of fuel must surely be helping pretty much any business you can think of which requires transportation to deliver its goods and services. What I’m getting at is that businesses are always complaining that high costs hamper their efforts to grow but any business person who complains that his or her business cannot grow because their costs are too low really shouldn’t be in business at all.

But this knock on effect does not appear to be happening. If costs are low for transport, for delivery of goods, for the public who can use their cars to get about, why is growth slowing? Is the oil and gas sector really so huge that the lack of spending by oil companies outweighs all other sectors of the economy?

Not being an expert, I went onto Twitter and asked a few economists whether it was right to blame the low oil price for the poor growth figures in the UK economy. Only one, Ann Pettifor, responded and her comment was, “Good question." A few other people, whose expertise and experience couldn’t be confirmed, chipped in with supply and demand comments suggesting that the collapse in US oil company capital spending is indeed to blame although I still struggle with the inference that the US oil sector outweighs all other sectors. One or two people agreed with me that, although there is a correlation between oil prices and the economy as a whole, this does not necessarily equate to cause and effect.

Ann Pettifor then posted a link to an article she wrote in August last year which you can read at:

http://www.primeeconomics.org/articles/how-western-capitalism-laid-china-low

In essence, what she is saying is that the real cause of economic gloom at the moment is the high public and personal debt, wage depression and austerity. In other words, the very economic Road to Recovery that the Tories are pushing us down is what is causing the problem.

Ann Pettifor is not the only economist saying this sort of thing but, so far, the establishment have a hold on the narrative which is being played to the public and the Scottish media were quick to follow the official line by blaming the oil price. One can only presume that this was little more than an attempt to convince the Scottish public that an independent Scotland could not possibly cope financially with oil prices being low because, of course, there is no other sector in our economy which creates jobs or wealth. This is little more than propaganda and we really need to counter it. Yes, the oil and gas sector is important and a large part of our economy but it is certainly not the only one, no matter what the Scottish media try to tell us.


Get Your Wellies ON

Posted on January 11th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The Daily Telegraph has confirmed what most of us already knew; that the mainstream media will say pretty much anything to smear the SNP because of the threat it presents to the established order. Yes, it’s Welliegate, a shocking tale of Scotland’s First Minister daring to wear an expensive jacket and costly wellies when visiting the victims of the floods in Aberdeenshire. How dare she, an alleged Socialist, wear expensive wellies? This, if the Telegraph is to be believed, is proof that the SNP are hypocritical in their claims to want a more socially just society.

Wow! Quite apart from the pathetic inanity of this sort of claim, we should be grateful to the Daily Telegraph for showing us just how low the Establishment is prepared to go in order to smear its opponents. Of course, the Telegraph failed to notice the real issues of the story, which were that Nicola Sturgeon actually met flood victims and announced a fund to pay each of them three times the amount the UK Government is paying victims of floods in England and Wales. Not that £1,500 can possibly replace the household items and personal effects lost in the floods but it does at least show a willingness to help. Hopefully the Scottish Government will also allocate more funds to flood defences to prevent a reoccurrence of this calamity.

But the Telegraph chose, instead, to make snide remarks about the First Minister’s choice of wellies. Needless to say, this has backfired on social media where several people have pointed out that the prices quoted in the Telegraphs’ article are those from an expensive London store and not necessarily applicable in Scotland or in cheaper alternative outlets. Not that the price really matters because what the Telegraph was trying to do was portray Nicola Sturgeon as a closet posh toff who is out of touch with the ordinary people of Scotland and who is quite prepared to take advantage of her salary to enjoy luxury items which are out of the reach of many people. It is a stunningly stupid argument, born of the belief that anyone with socialist values thinks everyone in the country should be poor. This is simply a misrepresentation of the issue. Nicola Sturgeon is well paid for doing a difficult and challenging job. Why should she not spend her money as she sees fit? As for her socialist values, the view of the likes of the Daily Telegraph and its Tory/UKIP readers is based on their own values of greed and selfishness. They cannot comprehend that it is perfectly possible to earn a lot of money and still be concerned that the majority of people in the country are not earning enough. They believe that a Socialist wants to take everything away from the wealthy and redistribute it to create a level playing field. But that is not what the poorer people in society want. It’s not an absolute levelling they are crying out for, just a shifting of the balance so that they have more than they have just now and that the wealthy lose a little of their income in order to help society as a whole. It is not a Communist revolution we want, just a fairer society where everyone in the country could afford to buy a pair of expensive wellies if they wanted to.

This is not the first time the media has attempted to smear Nicola Sturgeon in this way. There were howls of outrage when her expensive coffee maker was seen in a TV documentary, as if this, too, were proof of her high living. The truth is, though, that most of the people of Scotland couldn’t care less what sort of coffee maker or wellies she buys. They are more concerned with whether she is doing a good job as First Minister and, if the polls of leader approval ratings are to be believed, she is doing a better job than the leaders of any other UK political Party.

Image is important, of course, but the public are not as daft as the media likes to think. When David Cameron sent one of his lackeys out to buy a cheap pair of wellies for him because he didn’t want to appear too posh when filmed visiting flood areas in England, it is unlikely that anyone watching was fooled into thinking Cameron is not a millionaire. But Nicola Sturgeon’s image is about far more than wellies and most Scots know this.

Still, let’s hope the media continue to come up with this type of personal attack because it shows they know they have lost the real argument. The UK is a failing state, a plutocracy rather than a democracy, where the media sees its role as to preserve the rule of the wealthy. The subliminal message of the Telegraph’s article is that ordinary people should not aspire to wear expensive wellies because these are the preserve of the upper classes. That’s not the sort of country most ordinary people want to live in. We want a country where we can all wear whatever wellies we like. And, let’s face it, the way the climate is changing, we’ll all need expensive wellies soon.


Storm In A Teacake

Posted on January 5th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

People and nations boycott goods and services for a variety of reasons. At a personal level, it is often due to a bad customer service experience or dissatisfaction with the product concerned but it can also result from a loss of faith in the provider of the goods or services as witnessed by the fall in sales of Volkswagen cars following the emissions scandal. However, boycotts can also be based on political differences, as when people who lived through the Second World War refused to purchase Japanese goods as a matter of principle, or when South African goods were boycotted during the apartheid era, or the current boycotting of Israeli goods by some people because of that country’s treatment of the Palestinians. Boycotting is a perfectly legitimate stance to adopt but, as so often in post-IndieRef Scotland, a mooted boycott of Tunnock’s Teacakes is causing a furore on social media, with Yessers insisting they won’t purchase any more of these chocolate-covered marshmallow biscuits and Yoons deriding Yessers for being petty and childish.

But let’s take a look at what is going on here. Tunnock’s Teacakes have been part of Scottish culture for generations and were even featured as such in the opening ceremony to the Commonwealth Games last year. As with most businesses, though, Tunnock’s are looking to increase their sales and, from a purely commercial perspective, their decision to market the teacakes as a great British Teacake is understandable even if it does risk damaging their sales in Scotland and perhaps even in the Republic of Ireland where branding anything as British is as good as ensuring its failure.

The thing is, though, that it is only the sales aimed at England and Wales which are being re-branded. The packaging in Scotland will remain as it has always been and this raises a question as to what all the fuss is about. Using slightly different branding in different countries is hardly exceptional business practice, so Tunnock’s perhaps have a point.

The re-branding itself seems to consist of removing the Lion Rampant from the packaging and advertising the Teacakes as British which, of course, they are.

But there are a couple of things to consider here. Perhaps Tunnock’s have carried out some detailed market research which suggests that, all anecdotal evidence notwithstanding, the majority of English consumers equate the Lion Rampant with Scotland and would therefore be unlikely to purchase the teacakes since they are not branded as British. This seems unlikely on two counts because the Lion Rampant on the Tunnock’s boxes was hardly the main feature of the packaging and the connection to Scotland is probably lost on a great many people outside Scotland. But, assuming people in England did claim to recognise it and therefore stated they would be less likely to purchase the teacakes, that in itself suggests a boycott of sorts based on racial discrimination which is, if social media comments are to be taken at face value, deemed perfectly acceptable while the statements by Scots who do not wish to associate themselves with the British State that they will no longer buy Tunnock’s teacakes are deemed misguided and childish.

The larger question, though, is why Tunnock’s believe that British branding is required when other Scottish foodstuffs such as beef, salmon and whisky sell perfectly well in England.

And this is where we arrive at the nub of the problem. It has far less to do with the decision to re-brand the product south of the Border than it has to do with the way the announcement has been handled. Tunnock’s could, for example, have said, “We are a Scottish Company and will remain so. Our product in Scotland is not being changed in any way but we are seeking to increase our sales in other parts of the UK and market research suggests that the best way to do this is to brand the product slightly differently."

Instead, what they have said, is, “We are British. We can’t advertise the teacakes as Scottish because that is promoting Scotland". Indeed, there does not seem to have been any market research undertaken, simply a marketing decision based on a pro-British stance among the Company’s Directors who, it should not be forghotten, advocated a No vote in the IndieRef. In other words, they have made no secret of the fact that they believe the Scottish brand is tainted in the rest of the UK and have decided to proclaim themselves part of the Union. They are, of course, perfectly entitled to do this but they must have known that proclaiming this decision in such a public way would not go down well with the many Scots who want nothing to do with the British State. This, it seems, does not concern them and, on commercial grounds they may be correct since England provides by far the largest market in the UK and an increase in sales may well outweigh any potential slump in Scottish sales.

So, good luck to Tunnock’s in their commercial enterprise because they employ around 500 people and nobody wants to see yet more jobs lost but the Unionists complaining about the calls for a boycott really ought to get their logic circuits engaged. As several people have pointed out, why is it deemed acceptable for organisation such as Royal Bank of Scotland and standard Life to threaten to boycott Scotland if we had voted Yes but it is bigotry for Yessers to boycott the products of a company with whose political stance they fundamentally disagree? Doesn’t that same rule mean that Unionists who refuse to buy The National newspaper are petty and childish for boycotting a pro-Indie publication? Of course it doesn’t. It’s about choice and letting a Company know when you are not satisfied with the way they are going about their business.

As for me, I love Tunnock’s teacakes but I won’t be eating any more because I’m back on a diet. And if I do fancy a teacake, other brands are available.


Cleaning Up

Posted on January 4th, 2016

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Lots of people like to clean their house at New Year. Sometimes they refer to it as Spring Cleaning, even though we’re in the middle of winter but that’s just a turn of phrase which everybody understands.

What some of us are struggling to understand is the latest call for us to get out and voluntarily tidy up the UK in time for the Queen’s 90th birthday.

What? Doesn’t the old dear have enough spare cash to pay for an army of people to do this if she’s so concerned about the untidiness of her realm?

More importantly, doesn’t she, or the people behind the campaign, realise that litter and graffiti are not the real issue, but are simply symptoms of the problem? The real issue is poverty.

A recent UNICEF report states that 1 in 4 children in the UK is now living in relative poverty. The Tory Government disagrees because it has changed the way it measures poverty but that’s the Tories for you. According to UNICEF, the UK now has a worse child poverty rate then North Korea.

Yes, that’s right. If you look at a militaristic, aggressive country which is ruled by a powerful elite and where the citizens are compelled to adulate the Head of State unquestioningly, you see that its child poverty record is worse than North Korea. (It’s hard to tell the difference between the two countries sometimes, isn’t it?)

I’m not advocating going out and tipping your rubbish into the street just to spite the Clean For The Queen project but I would rather our efforts went into helping people in real need.

Unfortunately, I expect we’ll be bombarded by news reports about the new project while the plight of children in poverty will be largely ignored by the media. That’s how the UK operates and, lie the poverty rates in what is alleged to be the fifth wealthiest country in the world, it is an absolute disgrace.


A Basic Error

Posted on December 30th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Economist David Blanchflower posed the following question during an online discussion on social media:

“If inflation falls from 3% to 2%, have prices gone up, gone down, or remained the same?"

Incredibly, it seems that the majority of people answered that this meant prices had gone down, despite the word, “inflation" meaning that prices are going up. The fact that the rate of increase has slowed does not alter this fundamental point.

But if that is the level of understanding among the general public, it’s no wonder politicians get away with the nonsense they often spout.


Why We Dance

Posted on December 27th, 2015

By Tcswim

O what a nonsense that we dinnae dance
Ideas leap & whirl in this wee country
In reels of swirling thoughts and dreams
And in the progress of the steps it seems
That in our dance we laugh, for in that glance
We choreograph a future.
Freedom, dignity and hope: for this we dance.


Dance Away

Posted on December 23rd, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Just when you thought the #SNPBad idiocy couldn’t get any more stupid, the Scottish Conservatives have come out with an absolute Christmas cracker.

A survey of people’s exercise habits has revealed that the number of people who actively participate in dancing as a social and exercise activity has halved since the SNP came to power. The Tories, needless to say, have claimed this is due to the SNP.

What? No reflection that it might be down to people having less money to spend and cutting back on activities that cost a bit of money? No thoughts that the number of places where such activities can take place has reduced or that those places which remain are charging higher fees for renting the space? No consideration that the people who used to participate in dancing might have had changes in family life in the past eight years? Perhaps they have started their own families and have young children, which makes getting out as a couple more difficult, and perhaps the younger generation are participating in other activities?

No, none of those thoughts. I have no idea what lies behind the fall in the number of people dancing because the Tories have made no attempt to explain the fall, they have simply leaped to the conclusion that the SNP must be to blame because of a correlation between the time the SNP have been in Government and the interval between the chosen surveys.

Still, it’s given us a good laugh at Christmas, so thanks to the Tories for that. And there is good news for them because, although dancing as an activity is down, the number of #SNPBad stories is escalating day by day.

Come to think of it, perhaps that’s why fewer people are out dancing. They’re too busy killing themselves laughing at the media’s attempts to denigrate the most popular Government Scotland has ever had.


There Goes The Sun

Posted on December 21st, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Among the many announcements shovelled out by the UK Government last week was one that reduced the Feed In Tariff (FIT) paid to owners of solar panel installations. The FIT is to be slashed to only a third of the current amount although, to be fair, that is rather better than the Tories’ first thoughts on the matter which was to cut it by nearly 90%.

What is FIT and why does it matter? And why are the Tories cutting it?

The Feed In Tariff is a Government scheme designed to reimburse owners of solar panels for the extra energy they feed back in to the National Grid. It’s a fairly basic formula to give some incentive and reward on what is actually quite a complex matter. The thing with solar panels is that you never know when the sun is going to shine. If you are a domestic user, you may be in and be running a lot of electrical equipment and so using up al the power your panels are generating. However, if you happen to be out or not running much more than your fridge, that excess power is fed back to the Grid. FIT is designed to recompense you for that.

It is one of the selling features used by Solar Panel companies when trying to gain business from domestic users. The trouble is, it has been so successful that the scheme is now over budget and the Tories have decided to cut back quite drastically. It should be noted, however, that this will only affect new users, not those already tied in to agreed FIT payments. Still, the announcement has caused howls of outrage from the Solar industry, with claims of resulting job losses.

The Tories justify their decision on the basis that the scheme actually benefits middle class homeowners who can afford the cost of installing solar panels which can be in excess of £10,000 depending on how many panels you fit. This is perfectly true for reasons I will come to shortly but it does seem odd that the Tories, who derive most of their voting support from well off middle class voters should shut down a scheme which helps those people. Perhaps the Tories have developed a social conscience? OK, probably not, although their assertion is correct.

The problem with installing solar panels is the up front cost. Some companies promote a loan scheme where the loan repayments are more or less met by the net saving in electricity bills and the receipt of FIT payments. The income is obviously uneven, with FIT producing more in the summer and less in winter, with savings on electricity bills also unpredictable because of the uncertainty over how often the sun will actually shine. However, by and large, the companies installing solar panels get their calculations more or less right and homeowners are not out of pocket. The problem with this sort of scheme, though, is that the loans are taken out over an extended period, perhaps as long as 15 years, so the owners, while not being out of pocket, are not likely to see much return for as long as the loan is running. This means that, by and large, people on lower incomes have less incentive to install solar panels since, in purely financial terms, they are not going to see any real return for 15 years. Anyone who can afford to pay for the installation costs from their savings can, however, see an immediate benefit which is significantly greater than leaving funds in a savings account which currently pays a very low rate of interest. This is why the scheme has benefited middle class homeowners to a greater extent than envisaged.

Of course, finances are not the only issue. Being Green counts for a lot these days and some people look to solar as a way of doing their bit for the environment. It should also be remembered that the attractiveness of the scheme keeps solar companies in business and creates and sustains jobs. Some of those jobs will certainly be at risk if demand for solar panels reduces as a result of the cut to FIT. What the Tories don’t seem to have appreciated is that reducing FIT means that less well off homeowners are now even less likely to be able to afford to install solar panels, thus exacerbating the problem they cite as being one reason for cutting the FIT.

As for the claim that the scheme is over budget, this is a reasonable argument but it confirms that the decision is ideological because, as I’ve mentioned many times before, every Government chooses which industries and sectors to subsidise and encourage. The Tories have decided to cut funding for renewable energies and concentrate on nuclear. This is fair enough given the electoral mandate they received at the General Election but one wonders how many voters would prefer to have a nuclear reactor in their neighbourhood rather than solar panels on their roof. The decision to focus on nuclear is, though, a strange one when you consider the Tories’ pledge to be the Greenest Government ever. OK, nuclear power can generate a lot of electricity while solar panels on a roof can’t even provide all the power a single house needs but if more houses were equipped with solar panels, the demand for power from the Grid would be significantly reduced. It should also be noted that some industry commentators have claimed that the subsidy paid to the Chinese operators of the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point is so huge that a single month’s payment will be greater than the subsidies paid to the entire solar industry in a year. This rather suggests that the cost of FIT is not the overriding concern and that the decision is driven by the Tories’ illogical detestation of renewable energy sources.

When a country like Denmark can produce over 100% of its electricity needs from renewable sources, it surely cannot be impossible for the UK in general and particularly Scotland, to match this. Scotland’s ability to produce wind, wave and solar power is unrivalled in Europe and the need for alternative sources of energy is vital considering the Tories’ policy of closing down Scottish coal and gas generating stations by penalising them with fines for connecting to the Grid. Going for nuclear when alternative sources are available is a bewildering stance but the slashing of FIT confirms that the Tories are hell bent on going nuclear at the expense of renewables. Let’s hope it doesn’t result in the lights going out.


One House Or Two?

Posted on December 15th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Lord George Foulkes was at it again recently, calling for the creation of a second chamber of legislature within Scotland in order to prevent the SNP creating laws without effective scrutiny and challenge.

Now, there are plenty of countries in the world who have two chambers within their system of government, the UK being one of them. This is known as a bicameral system. I was recently unfortunate enough to be chatting to some No voters who insisted Foulkes was correct and that every Parliament must have a second chamber which can scrutinise and challenge laws which might have been rushed through a lower chamber and passed by virtue of a Parliamentary majority. I was assured that the House of Lords provides a good example of how this can work, simply on the basis that they challenged the recent Tax Credit plans of the Tory Government and are also unhappy with the Scotland Bill’s fiscal provisions.

OK, this is a fair point and I’m not necessarily advocating that Scotland must stick with a unicameral system (that’s one legislative chamber, i.e. the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood). However, I did a bit of checking and discovered a list of countries which seem to manage perfectly well with only one legislative chamber. Admittedly, there are a few basket cases on the list, such as North Korea and Greece, and there are lots of smaller countries where you can understand that the size of the nation does not necessarily warrant the expense of a second chamber. There are also some effective dictatorships such as Egypt and Syria, along with a smattering of former Communist countries.

But, and here’s the interesting thing, there are also perfectly normal small to medium-sized countries such as New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Slovakia and Sweden. And there’s China, the largest country in the world by population although its single-Party system makes a second chamber redundant.

You can check the list at:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicameralism#Concept

It is also worth noting that many countries with federal systems of government, such as the USA, Switzerland and Germany, have unicameral State legislatures within their federated components. Bearing in mind that many of these federal units have populations larger than Scotland, this doesn’t appear to be a problem in those countries either.

It must also be remembered that a bicameral system is no guarantee that bad laws will not be passed. In the UK, for example, the Government can usually force things through eventually and, in some cases, immediately. The recent House of Commons debate on bombing in Syria resulted in RAF jets dropping bombs within a few hours of the vote, with the House of Lords conspicuously not involved in scrutinising the decision.

And, while the list of countries with unicameral legislatures contains some places that can be reasonably regarded as politically unstable, the list of bicameral states has its fair share as well, including places like Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico, Myanmar and Pakistan.

There is an argument that a unicameral system works best when no single party has an overall majority. If coalition or minority Government is the order of the day, opposition Parties can usually ensure that the Government is unable to push laws through. In Scotland, of course, the electoral system was designed to prevent any one Party gaining such an advantage. The problem now is that the opposition Parties have shown themselves to be so inept or out of step with the wishes of a vast section of the electorate that the SNP have been able to gain the unexpected position of majority Government.

I’m not saying that there isn’t necessarily a need for discussion on whether a second chamber is required. I don’t think it is really necessary under the current devolved administration but the situation might be different in an independent Scotland. Then again, it might still not be necessary and a great deal of thought would need to go into the composition of such a second chamber and how its members should be elected. What I am saying is that we should not rush to accept the Unionist view that a second chamber is essential because, as other countries have demonstrated, that is simply not true.


Abridged Version

Posted on December 14th, 2015

By David Hooks

This article first appeared on the website of Politics Scotland (www.politicsscotland.scot) and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

There have already been cries that the SNP should have done more, usually from the same people who argued they shouldn’t have built a new bridge and that it was a vanity project. There were claims that the transfer of the bridge maintenance contract to a private company had led to the chief engineer leaving the loss of years of knowledge. But the crux of the argument is that the SNP removing tolls has reduced the money available for maintenance and there were indeed plans to improve the structural integrity of the trusses that were supposedly deferred due to budget constraints. The work to replace the trusses was to be difficult, expensive, originally estimated at £10M but likely to be higher, and cause significant disruption to bridge users. It was decided to try a reinforcing technique with a trial due to finish this year with a decision taken after the transfer of the authority if the trial was unsuccessful.

The Forth Estuary Transport Agency did say in 2014 that the deferral did increase the risk of the long term structural integrity of the bridge, but there didn’t seem to be any urgent warning of “the bridge will collapse in 12 months if you don’t act now". But reality is that the need for work on these trusses has been known about for 6 years. The SNP may argue that the capital budget was cut 25% from Westminster, but the cut to capital grant for the FETA was 65%.

The defect was found during routine inspections, and Mark Arndt, from the maintenance contractor Amey, explained that these types of sheer fractures are difficult to predict and happen very quickly. He noted that significant over-stressing over the lifespan of the bridge had meant several parts of the main supporting structures were carrying far more load under certain circumstances than they were designed for.

But there have been accusations that an increased number of abnormal loads have been allowed across the bridge in the past 12 months and there are many instances of drivers using the bridge in adverse conditions. Some trucks have overturned while traversing in high winds putting increased shock and pressure on the bridge’s structures. An acoustic monitoring system was installed in 2006 and from then to April 93 cable breaks had been identified, but 24 of those had occurred in the previous three months.

But it’s worth taking a look briefly at the history of the bridge. It was first built with an estimate of a maximum of 60,000 vehicles a day, but that number is regularly exceeded, and the maximum weight of vehicles on British roads has doubled to 44 tonnes. At the time of building it was hugely ambitious and was briefly the largest bridge of its kind outside of the United States. It was opened in 1964, yet it was only in 2004, 40 years later, that the first full scale investigation of the cables was performed. During that maiden inspection, prompted by the discovery of corrosion in the Severn bridge, it was discovered that the cables had the corrosion levels of a bridge 20 years older than it really was. A major and expensive, but brilliant, engineering effort was undertaken to dry out the cables. This involved wrapping them in neoprene and pumping in dehumidified air with the aim of stopping the corrosion.

Other work has been done on the bridge over the decades, the towers were strengthened in the 1990’s to cope with increased traffic, and structures were erected to protect them from collisions from ships. This wasn’t dealt with in the original design and there must be increasing questions about the original design and materials used given the number of works that have been carried out.

The size of the crack and the apparent shifting of the supporting structure seems to suggest a major problem that will require months of work to safely repair and will likely lead to expensive inspection and repair work on the other similar sections of the bridge. Given that the new bridge was due to open at the end of next year it may have been thought that the government could get away with reduced investment, but it now seems likely the trusses will have to be replaced.

There is certainly an argument to made that the value of the Forth Road bridge to the Scottish economy has been significantly undervalued and that it has suffered from a lack of investment and maintenance historically. It is also true that the SNP have put the money it to build a replacement, albeit a cut down version of the original plan which would have carried rail as well as road traffic. But there is certainly evidence that the current problems could have been avoided and questions have to be answered

UPDATE:

Derek MacKay MSP, the Scottish Government transport minister, confirmed that the specific fault had not been previously identified as a risk. The closure of the bridge when the fault was found has, he claimed, ensured that the repair will be quicker and less costly.


Abridged Version

Posted on December 14th, 2015

By David Hooks

This article first appeared on the website of Politics Scotland (www.politicsscotland.scot) and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

There have already been cries that the SNP should have done more, usually from the same people who argued they shouldn’t have built a new bridge and that it was a vanity project. There were claims that the transfer of the bridge maintenance contract to a private company had led to the chief engineer leaving the loss of years of knowledge. But the crux of the argument is that the SNP removing tolls has reduced the money available for maintenance and there were indeed plans to improve the structural integrity of the trusses that were supposedly deferred due to budget constraints. The work to replace the trusses was to be difficult, expensive, originally estimated at £10M but likely to be higher, and cause significant disruption to bridge users. It was decided to try a reinforcing technique with a trial due to finish this year with a decision taken after the transfer of the authority if the trial was unsuccessful.

The Forth Estuary Transport Agency did say in 2014 that the deferral did increase the risk of the long term structural integrity of the bridge, but there didn’t seem to be any urgent warning of “the bridge will collapse in 12 months if you don’t act now". But reality is that the need for work on these trusses has been known about for 6 years. The SNP may argue that the capital budget was cut 25% from Westminster, but the cut to capital grant for the FETA was 65%.

The defect was found during routine inspections, and Mark Arndt, from the maintenance contractor Amey, explained that these types of sheer fractures are difficult to predict and happen very quickly. He noted that significant over-stressing over the lifespan of the bridge had meant several parts of the main supporting structures were carrying far more load under certain circumstances than they were designed for.

But there have been accusations that an increased number of abnormal loads have been allowed across the bridge in the past 12 months and there are many instances of drivers using the bridge in adverse conditions. Some trucks have overturned while traversing in high winds putting increased shock and pressure on the bridge’s structures. An acoustic monitoring system was installed in 2006 and from then to April 93 cable breaks had been identified, but 24 of those had occurred in the previous three months.

But it’s worth taking a look briefly at the history of the bridge. It was first built with an estimate of a maximum of 60,000 vehicles a day, but that number is regularly exceeded, and the maximum weight of vehicles on British roads has doubled to 44 tonnes. At the time of building it was hugely ambitious and was briefly the largest bridge of its kind outside of the United States. It was opened in 1964, yet it was only in 2004, 40 years later, that the first full scale investigation of the cables was performed. During that maiden inspection, prompted by the discovery of corrosion in the Severn bridge, it was discovered that the cables had the corrosion levels of a bridge 20 years older than it really was. A major and expensive, but brilliant, engineering effort was undertaken to dry out the cables. This involved wrapping them in neoprene and pumping in dehumidified air with the aim of stopping the corrosion.

Other work has been done on the bridge over the decades, the towers were strengthened in the 1990’s to cope with increased traffic, and structures were erected to protect them from collisions from ships. This wasn’t dealt with in the original design and there must be increasing questions about the original design and materials used given the number of works that have been carried out.

The size of the crack and the apparent shifting of the supporting structure seems to suggest a major problem that will require months of work to safely repair and will likely lead to expensive inspection and repair work on the other similar sections of the bridge. Given that the new bridge was due to open at the end of next year it may have been thought that the government could get away with reduced investment, but it now seems likely the trusses will have to be replaced.

There is certainly an argument to made that the value of the Forth Road bridge to the Scottish economy has been significantly undervalued and that it has suffered from a lack of investment and maintenance historically. It is also true that the SNP have put the money it to build a replacement, albeit a cut down version of the original plan which would have carried rail as well as road traffic. But there is certainly evidence that the current problems could have been avoided and questions have to be answered

UPDATE:

Derek MacKay MSP, the Scottish Government transport minister, confirmed that the specific fault had not been previously identified as a risk. The closure of the bridge when the fault was found has, he claimed, ensured that the repair will be quicker and less costly.


Sir Danny Boy

Posted on December 11th, 2015

For SIR Danny

With arrogant audacity
He punished us with austerity
Osborne’s jock-boy, all the while
With that insidious smile

Hurt the children of the poor
Swept them up… like so much stoor
With cuts that would make Thatcher boak
Cuts to punish working-folk

He enjoyed it awe and thus the leer
inflicted pain and thus the sneer
A ‘nathair’ …a Gaelic snake
A rented teuchter on the make

You loved it, Sir danny-boy
A paid-for Tory boy-toy
Gideon's pal & Oxon hoor
Hired to fk the sick & poor!

And thus the ever present smirk.
Oh for a potion, an asp, a dirk
And then good knight … arise
30 pieces is YOUR prize

Tcswim


Imagine This

Posted on December 10th, 2015

By Wee Hamish

Imagine this. You need a new car. You’ve saved up a couple of grand so you pop down to the local second-hand dealership and talk to a salesman. Let’s call him Michael.

You say, “I need a car, Michael."

He says, “No problem."

Car Michael has got one that is perfect for you. Right price, and it’s got everything you need. Five doors, four wheels and an engine.

Michael tells you it’s had one careful owner, has only done thirty thousand miles and has an MOT for nearly a whole year.

Perfect. So you buy it. And a week later, the engine blows up. When the Insurance evaluator comes out, he discovers that the car is actually a rebuilt wreck which had previously been written off. It had done over 150,000 miles and the MOT Certificate is a fake.

So you take Car Michael to court and sue him.

The judge agrees Michael lied to you but he decides you lose the case because you didn’t specifically ask Michael whether he was a liar and he didn’t specifically tell you he was an honest guy. The judge tells you that you should expect a second-hand car dealer to be a liar so it’s your own fault for believing him.

That couldn’t happen, could it? There are laws against that sort of thing, right?

Right. Unless the Carmichael in question is an MP. Because the same laws don’t apply to MPs. The law, written by MPs, says MPs are allowed to lie to you and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it unless you specifically ask them if they are the sort of person who would lie about whatever it is they are talking about.

That’s your Westminster justice for you, folks.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of it.


Loki

Posted on December 9th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

There’s an interesting article written by Loki on the Bella Caledonia website which is causing some consternation amongst Yessers because of the accusations he makes regarding what he views as their idealistic and misguided viewpoint. You can read it at :

http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2015/12/07/scotland-the-utopia-that-never-was/

Does he have a point? That’s probably a matter of opinion but the Yes movement certainly should not be afraid of this sort of criticism. It is far better than the tribal #SNPBad attacks made in the mainstream media on a daily basis which only serve to entrench views on both sides. Loki at least has considered his reasons and made a passionate argument. It cannot be denied that some of his observations are correct although I must admit that I disagree with him in his conclusions. That, however, is probably a reflection of our differing political views.

One thing I am not clear on is precisely who Loki is attacking. He may well have encountered far more political activists than I have but I must say that I have never come across any Yes advocate who expressed the belief that an independent Scotland would be some sort of Utopia. Having said that, if we disregard his rather hyperbolic comment about Braveheart, he does make one strong argument which certainly made me reflect on my own stance and is, I suspect, one of the reasons many Yes supporters are upset by his comments. This is his accusation about us adopting the moral high ground on matters of social justice as if those who voted Yes feel they are morally superior to Unionists.

There are a few observations I’d like to make on this. The first is that everyone attempts to justify their own stance on any topic and claiming moral superiority is a common trait no matter where you stand politically. George Osborne claims the moral high ground when cutting State Benefits because he says it is in the country’s best interests. I even met a supporter of Donald Trump who attempted to justify his anti-immigrant stance on moral grounds.

The second point is that, quite frankly, it doesn’t take much to feel morally superior to the Tories, whether they are of the Blue, Red or Yellow persuasion. The attacks on the poor and disabled, the rise in food banks, etc. are well documented and opposing those sorts of policies naturally makes one feel morally right.

Finally, and this does link to my first point, I detect that Loki’s writing reveals his own feelings of moral superiority over those he is attacking. Of course, he may well be justified in this since he has been a long-time supporter of the move for Scottish independence and may well feel justified in disliking the attitudes of later converts to the cause, especially if they express their support in idealistic and unrealistic ways.

Loki is certainly right when he says that the independent Scotland we would have voted for would not be all that different to the Scotland we have now and I think this is the main reason I disagree with his stance. What many of us who take an interest in politics can often forget is that the majority of people are not so enthralled by it. They want to live their lives in peace, to earn a decent wage and to do the best for themselves and their families while knowing that they have the State to fall back on if things go wrong at any time in their lives. These people tend to occupy the political centre ground, flitting between the right and left of this position. The trouble they now face is that the political centre has shifted to the right, leaving what used to be moderate views now derided as extremist by the UK media.

This is where the SNP have been very clever. They are not a very left wing Party at al, occupying a position which is perhaps slightly to the left of the old centre. They have just made a virtue of being seen as left wing on matters of social justice because the other Parties have lurched so far to the right. But occupying this ground is what caused the surge in support for Scottish independence. Most people were not hankering for dramatic change. They wanted their lives to go on pretty much the same but with the knowledge that their Government would be chosen by them and not imposed by a Westminster election in which Scottish votes do not count. They also wanted a Government which put Scotland first rather than one which runs down its industries and economy at virtually every turn.

It may well be that this sort of ambition is not radical enough for Loki and he is perfectly entitled to that opinion. I would suggest, however, that without appealing to the middle ground, the Yes movement would have died an early death. To gain a majority of votes, it is always necessary to appeal to the desires of the majority, not simply those who want radical change.

So, yes, the Scotland we might have found ourselves living in would probably be very similar to the Scotland we live in now except that some of the more draconian measures being implemented by westminster would not be coming into effect. The Scottish Government, whichever Party was in power, would still need to deal with multi-national corporations, with foreign powers who have vested interests, with climate change and with the EU. Those things will not go away and need to be dealt with. Anyone who thought Scotland would be an independent Utopia is indeed worthy of being corrected. Equally, though, those of us who would have been quite happy with that sort of Scotland, where we got the Government we voted for, the foreign policies and social policies we wanted, are perfectly entitled to that point of view, just as Loki is entitled to his.

So, while I think Loki’s recent contribution is welcome from the point of view of encouraging debate and reflection of our values, I think it would be better for him not to alienate those who were on the same side during the IndieRef. The time for such arguments is once Scotland is independent and all political perspectives can be put forward when we are selecting our own Government. From some of Loki’s comments, it appears he thinks the chance has gone and I tend to agree with him on that although recent events have suggested a widening gap between Scotland and the rest of the UK, so an independent Scotland may not be as far off as I had originally suspected.

Where I do agree with Loki is that anyone who expresses idealistic views of a Utopian Scotland is fooling themselves and would actually harm the movement by giving ammunition to those who wish Scotland to remain part of the UK. However, if and when a second IndieRef comes along, I believe more pragmatic voices will provide the stimulus the Yes movement needs and, if idealists and pragmatists come together, we can perhaps achieve independence so that Loki and others can put forward their more radical views when the country comes to elect its first truly independent Government in over three centuries.


In Poor Health

Posted on December 6th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

A couple of weeks ago, Kezia Dugdale attacked the Scottish Government over figures relating to cancer rates in the most deprived areas of Scotland. This led me to engage in a short Twitter conversation with several people when I posted a comment to the effect that it is poverty that is the real issue, not healthcare, and I’d like to explore that a little further.

First of all, it would be sensible to explain something about the official statistics. When we talk about people from deprived areas, what sort of deprivation do we mean? It turns out that an area is defined as poor or affluent based on several indicators relating to the people who live there. So, if an area has a majority of inhabitants who are unemployed, have high levels of poor health, poor educational outcomes, limited access to public amenities, etc, then the area is defined as poor. So, in fact, it is the people who define the level of poverty, not the area. By definition, therefore, people from poorer areas will have more health issues than people from more affluent areas no matter what any Government does to improve things, since it is the health issues that contribute to the area being defined as poor in the first place. So, for example, if everyone in the country were suddenly to experience a significant improvement in health, education and employment, some areas would still be classed as relatively poor if the people there did not quite attain the same levels as people in other areas. When you understand this, you will see that Kezia Dugdale’s specific comparisons are misleading although that is not to say that any Government should not do its best to improve the quality of living of all its citizens and poor health should be countered wherever possible. It is, however, the method of tackling this that is the real issue. Throwing money and resources at healthcare is not a long term viable solution. To find the real answer, we need to understand the problem properly.

One of the common challenges to the issue of poverty is an observation on the lifestyles of people who live in the poorer areas of our society. It can take several forms but is essentially a sneer to the effect that these people would not be so poor if they didn’t smoke / drink / take drugs / go abroad for holidays etc.

I’m sure we all know someone who falls into at least one of those categories and I’ll readily admit that I often despair of hearing people complain that they have no money to purchase food or pay their electricity bill yet still manage to smoke forty cigarettes a day or jet off to Spain for a fortnight’s holiday where they will spend most of their time so drunk they probably don’t know where they are anyway. However, I believe the big problem many of us have is that we recognise these habits as the causes of poverty when, in fact, they are far more likely to be symptoms. While there is no doubt these people would be slightly better off financially if they were able to stop partaking in unhealthy habits, poverty is a much more complex issue than that.

In his post-war development of the social care system most of us have grown up under, William Beveridge recognised that a basic level of income was a prerequisite to good health. This was an extremely progressive insight and has since been proved correct. A long term study in America which looked at children from poor Native American families has shown that children who grow up in an environment where they are financially better off are less inclined to indulge in anti-social, aggressive or intransigent behaviour. Children who grow up in poverty are less inclined to conform within an education system and are more likely to experiment with alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Peer pressure and a lack of education combine to kick start addictive habits in childhood which prevail throughout the individual’s life and, as we all know, many of these habits lead to health issues, particularly cancer. People from poorer backgrounds are more likely to smoke and therefore more likely to suffer lung cancer but my contention is that these are caused by their poverty.

Even when an individual does their best to avoid unhealthy habits – and I must be clear that the generalisations I have mentioned are not at all intended to imply that everyone who is poor smokes, drinks to excess or takes drugs – living on a restricted income normally leads to an unhealthy diet in which fresh fruit and vegetables simply do not feature. Again, though, much of this is habit. Discount supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi often sell fruit and vegetables at prices most people could afford and yet someone who has been brought up on a diet of takeaways and processed foods may still not take advantage of this even if they are fortunate enough to live within easy reach of such a store. Again, this must be down to poor education and lack of example from parents and peers. Part of the issue is, of course, that children and young adults have little concept of the future. They often do not care about what might happen to them in thirty or forty years because the warnings appear to have no relevance to their present situation. I am sure we all know young adults who continue to smoke even if older members of their family have died from lung cancer. They may acknowledge that they really should stop smoking but they cannot break the habit and tend to ignore what might happen to them in the future because it hasn’t happened yet. Quite how this sort of resistance can be overcome, I really don’t know. Prevention would be better than cure but, as mentioned above, children from poorer backgrounds are more likely to begin smoking because of their lack of prospects and rebellious attitude towards what they often view as authoritarian preaching.

But let’s not pick on the poor. This habit of doing things that are bad for us is a widespread human trait. There are plenty of relatively well off, well educated people who eat or drink too much even though they know it is not good for their health. Why then, should we place too much blame on people from deprived areas because they cannot break a habit that is unhealthy for them?

IN one sense, it is hardly surprising that a person growing up in a deprived area with few job prospects is likely to seek some sort of solace from alcohol or tobacco, or to take the chance of a cheap holiday abroad even if they really can’t afford it. We all like a break and it is one of the more irritating facets of human nature that the very people who complain about poor people smoking are almost always better off and insist on having a break from the drudgery of life at weekends yet seem to believe that someone with little income does not need any sort of respite from the very real stresses of poverty.

There isn’t an easy answer to this problem and certainly not a short term quick fix. However, the study which was undertaken over a twenty year period among Native Americans suggests that providing job opportunities and a decent level of income to poor families will actually improve the life chances of the children in those families even if it has little impact on the adults. It is a long term, societal change that is needed but it can only come about if the nation’s economy is boosted, jobs are created and life chances offered to those who are currently denied them by circumstances. There will always be some people who would prefer to waste their money on unhealthy habits but, in general, a slight increase in wealth for those at the lower levels of society will eventually lead to a healthier society. Sadly, this requires Government policy aimed at increasing work opportunities and ensuring that the work is paid at a level above mere subsistence. This is, of course, diametrically opposed to the policies of the UK Government which seeks to boost business profits at the expense of the working classes. This is despite the patently obvious economic example that increasing the income of millions of people who are currently on such low income that they require social security payments to supplement their wages, would result in an immediate boost to the economy as their increased spending power created more demand for goods and services. The level of that demand would far outweigh the demand created by a few thousand extremely wealthy individuals who are the current beneficiaries of Government policy. Trickle Down Economics does not work and the past four decades have provided plenty of evidence of that, although Messrs Osborne and Cameron seem oblivious to the views of the vast majority of leading economists. So, while we need a fundamental change of direction in policy, it seems unlikely we will see one within the UK for some years to come. Sadly, that will condemn another generation to lives of poverty with all the health issues that brings in its wake.


Walking Tall

Posted on December 3rd, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

From a purely military perspective, Britain’s decision to bomb Daesh inside Syria will make little difference to the current situation. Plenty of other countries have been bombing there for months and having a few Tornado jets adding to the killing won’t change things a great deal. Without significant numbers of coordinated ground troops, defeating Daesh will be impossible. Apart from the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japan, no war has ever been won by the use of air power alone. It is significant but not decisive. Just look at Vietnam for evidence of this.

So why are we bothering? The nonsense about keeping us safer goes against all the commentary from people who have been close to Daesh. They want us to attack them because it provides a rallying call for more recruits. The majority of those recruits will be home-grown in the UK, thus increasing the chances of a terrorist attack in mainland Britain.

So, if it is strategically pointless and tactically what our enemies want us to do, why on earth are we doing it?

Simple. It’s an ego trip for David Cameron and his warmongering pals. It makes Britain look tough and allows him to claim a place at “the top table" when it comes to discussing how the Middle East should be treated. Note that there is very little interest in asking the people who live in the region what they want. The sad truth is that the UK Government still harbours a lingering fondness for the glory days of its imperial greatness and wants to throw its weight around to prove it is still a world power.

What our MPs voted for goes against what most of their constituents want but that didn’t stop them. It’s not about Syria, or terrorists, but about Britain’s prestige and that’s a truly awful condemnation of the decision.

So now we have an escalating war which Scotland’s people and MPs opposed but which we are involved in anyway. It probably isn’t the material change of circumstances Nicola Sturgeon warned about as a prerequisite for another IndieRef because we’ve been bombing Daesh for months in Iraq and this is merely an extension of Britain’s involvement, but it’s certainly another widening of the gulf between Scotland and the rest of the UK.


Bloody Foreigners!

Posted on December 1st, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

An article published by the Guardian today suggests that George Osborn’s long term economic plan is dependent on net immigration continuing to rise. Without the increased number of foreigners coming to the UK and boosting the economy, his daft and illogical insistence on attaining a budget surplus looks difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

There are a few points to consider here. First of all, the Tories famously pledged to reduce immigration yet seem to be basing their long term economic plan on increasing it. Some might call that hypocrisy; others might call it merely another Tory U-turn. However, the forecast produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) does suggest that the majority of these immigrants will find work in the UK, which is also rather at odds with the media view, as espoused by UKIP and many Tories, that immigrants place a strain on our Social Security system because they are only coming here to claim Benefits.

The other thing to remember is that the OBR never get any forecasts correct. As the Guardian article points out, they have now increased their estimate of the amount of net immigration twice in the past eight months. And wouldn’t you know it, the last increase just so happened to be exactly the right number required to allow George Osborne to backtrack on his cuts to Working Tax Credits. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

What does all this tell us? Not much, except that it confirms the OBR are just another Tory institution and that the UK Government will use any tricks it can in order to mislead the public into thinking it actually has a viable economic policy. But we knew that already, didn’t we?

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/dec/01/osborne-reliant-on-rising-immigration-levels-to-achieve-budget-surplus


Syria Summarised

Posted on November 28th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Few of us would claim to be experts on the Middle East but with David Cameron’s thirst for war in Syria, we really ought to try to understand what is going on out there. So here’s my attempt at unravelling the situation and explaining my understanding of it as simply as I can.

It all started with the Arab Spring, when various countries experienced revolutions which overthrew their incumbent dictators. Syria was no exception but President Assad reacted strongly and used military force against the rebels in his country.

Assad is an ally of Russia and so, by default, the USA wants rid of him. Accordingly, they funded and equipped some of the rebels

and began raising support for a bombing campaign against him. However, because Assad was backed by Russia, nobody was too keen to get involved quite so blatantly, so the USA resorted to making threats about bombing Assad if he used chemical weapons. There were a few attempts to prove that he had done so but the evidence was questionable at best. Fortunately for the USA, their desire to bomb somebody was given a boost by the actions of the group variously known as Islamic State, IS, ISIS, ISL or Daesh.

Daesh came to prominence after the US / UK invasion of Iraq when senior members of Iraq’s former military ruling class were ousted and looking for a way to oppose the western powers. Daesh quickly gathered followers and seized control of a large area of land in Iraq and Syria, also gaining control of several oilfields.

Daesh’s main enemies are actually other Muslims. Being extremely fundamental Sunni Muslims, they have carried out many attacks on their Shia opponents, killing thousands in the process. They have also been responsible for, or claimed credit for, terrorist attacks in other countries, including several in France. In addition, Daesh made a habit of capturing nationals of other countries and publicly beheading them. For these reasons, America quickly gained allies in their call for revenge bombing, with around a dozen countries, including Canada, France and Saudi Arabia, joining in, with the UK operating in areas outside Syria.

With me so far? We have Assad fighting rebels who are supported by the West and Daesh attacking everyone around them, with the West bombing Daesh while also providing funds and munitions for anti-Assad rebels.

If only it were that simple. Turkey, a country which has a habit of attempting to destabilise most of its neighbours, is ostensibly aiding the USA but it is also threatened by the Kurds who want to establish an independent Kurdistan. There are several Kurdish groups who, when not fighting one another, are actively engaged in fighting Daesh but also fight Turkey, carrying out some terrorist attacks there, according to Turkish media. For this reason, Turkey supports the anti-Assad rebels because they fight Assad and the Kurds but they also tacitly encourage Daesh because they are fighting the Kurds and because the Turks are governed by Sunni Muslims who have some sympathies for Daesh even though they are officially attempting to destroy them.

Enter the Russians. Things weren’t going too well for Assad, so he asked them to help him. They joined in, claiming they were fighting Daesh but actually bombing assad’s enemies who, although some of them are linked to Al Qaeda and therefore technically America’s enemies, are being supported by the USA. When America protested about the Russians bombing the wrong terrorists, the Russians then agreed to spend some time bombing Daesh and allegedly destroyed a convoy of oil transporters which were carrying oil Daesh hoped to sell to raise funds.

This annoyed Turkey because they have secretly been purchasing the oil from Daesh and didn’t like the Russians blowing up their cheap supplies. In retaliation, they shot down a Russian plane. Now, it must be said that the Russians have a long tradition of probing other countries’ airspace and the Turks were given an excuse for this action although they do appear to have been very willing to start world War Three with their trigger-happy response to an alleged seventeen-second incursion into Turkish airspace. There is still confusion over exactly what happened and whether any warnings were given to the Russian aeroplane but it is revealing that at least one of the crew was captured by Syrian rebels when he bailed out. He might have drifted, of course, or perhaps the Syrians had inadvertently invaded Turkey. We’ll probably never know the truth of the affair.

If you thought it was getting complicated, it grows worse. Daesh not only sell their oil to Turkey, they sell it to Assad, who is one of their enemies. This allows him to continue fighting the US-backed rebels who are also now being bombed by Russia.

As you can see, it’s a complete shambles out there and is further complicated by another source of funding and equipment which Daesh enjoy. Because they are fundamental Sunnis, they are backed and funded by Saudi Arabia which itself is governed by and promotes its own extremist form of Islam known as Wahhabism. For religious reasons, they covertly back Daesh because Daesh oppose Iran, the Saudi’s main concern in the region. But the Saudis are, of course, America’s closest ally in the Middle East and are also actively supported by the UK even though these two countries oppose the Saudis proxies, Daesh and even though the Saudi Air Force has been involved in bombing missions against Daesh because, ostensibly at least, they are cooperating with their US allies.

Honestly, you’d struggle to make this up, wouldn’t you?

This is the mess David Cameron wants the UK to become involved in by dropping yet more bombs, in defiance of the fact that the thousands of bombs already dropped have only served to make the problem worse. There is no clear strategy for peace in the area which must necessarily include the Kurds and Assad, if for no other reason that the former are the largest and most powerful ethnic group in the area and the latter is an ally of Russia who will not want to see him toppled. Eliminating Daesh will be virtually impossible without employing ground troops in large numbers anyway and even then, as our experiences in Afghanistan has amply demonstrated, there is no guarantee of imposing any sort of lasting peace, even if the major powers were to devise some sort of sensible strategy which, so far, they have totally failed to do.

There is obviously no simple answer to this crisis but dropping more bombs certainly isn’t going to help. Cutting off Daesh’s funding would be a start but that would require a significant change of stance by America, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, so it’s not likely to happen any time soon. Establishing an independent Kurdistan might also help ease tensions but Turkey is never going to agree to that so another route to peace has been effectively cut off.

So, in summary, America supports Al Qaeda rebels against Assad and opposes Daesh who are fighting Assad but supports Turkey and Saudi who covertly aid Daesh while cooperating with Russia in some bombing of Daesh but opposing them when they bomb Al Qaeda. This, of course, does not prevent the USA bombing Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan but that’s a different war. The Kurds, meanwhile, are fighting Daesh and Turkey, so the west supports them in some of their fighting but not in others. We do support Iraq which is also fighting Daesh and is a long-standing foe of Iran which supports Russia who, of course, are on our side when they bomb Daesh but not when they bomb Al Qaeda. Turkey remains a western ally so officially fights Daesh but actually supports them and opposes the Kurds while supplying Al Qaeda. Russia backs Assad so opposes Al Qaeda but also opposes Daesh and is now on poor terms with Turkey who, as a NATO member, is unfriendly to Russia but as a trading partner, relies on Russia for supplies of oil and gas. Saudi Arabia are western allies but support Daesh financially because Daesh oppose Iran and Assad, but the Saudis are also involved in bombing Daesh in order to keep in with America. As an aside, the Saudis also continue to wage war against Al Qaeda in Yemen where both the Saudis and Al Qaeda are fighting the houthis and a Daesh offshoot who are also fighting each other. Not wanting to be left out completely, the UK provides intelligence and military advice to Saudi Arabia in this little-reported war.

I hope that has cleared it up for you. If you can see a solution, please contact the UN.

Finally, in all this, we must not forget the refugees. It is no wonder people are fleeing Syria in vast numbers. Perhaps the UK could spend its money better by helping more of them rather than by dropping bombs on their country. Again, that’s not likely to happen because Cameron isn’t really fussy who he bombs, as his U-turn on his target from assad to Daesh clearly shows; he just wants to look tough to keep his right wing voters happy. Whatever else you can say about the man, anyone who adopts that sort of 19th Century gunboat diplomacy really shouldn’t be permitted to run a sweetie shop, let alone a country.


The Tale of Scotland Bill

Posted on November 27th, 2015

By Tcswim

This is the sad tale of Scotland Bill

Who voted Labour & voted NO, until

Working in the safe British HMRC

Scotland Bill was shocked to see

A wee letter saying ‘"we’re shutting down

Moving out to an English town

Moving out a Cumbernauld

Oh forget the lies that once we told

That was only politics

Just a few London dirty tricks

The Referendum we HAD to win

A few porky lies well a minor sin!

(After –all, a lie is not as big

As stickin your willie in a pig!)

Let’s get back to the letter

from the folk who promised you better!

“Sorry but you are now redundant

It had to be done, very urgent

Britain needs to help the wealthy

Work up there is not financially healthy

And we need cuts to stem the tide

So 800 get lost in East Kilbride

Move to London if you like

Take a bus get on your bike

We never said it would be all right

Better together was just a sound bite

We never promised you a better life

Just better together (like a divorced man n wife)

Promises & vows only lies, just silly

Tales. You didn’t believe them surely Billy!

London lies to fool Scots folk

All made up a pig n a poke, a Tory joke

Come on Billy did you believe?

Better together was MEANT to deceive

To pretend that London really cares

For Scotland Bill and folk up there

(Really Billy you are not Mayfair

And much too far from Trafalgar Square)

Quite frankly we don’t care a shit

It’s time for England to benefit

(England votes for English laws

We’ve got the jocks by the baws)

We’ll squeeze your ungrateful Sturgeon

A difficult Glaswegian woman!

We will give you a Bill to let you fail

More cuts & layoffs more in the mail

We are the Union we know the game

WE’ve now got Holyrood to BLAME!

Scotland Bill! We sold you a pup

SLAB & Tory stitched you up!

The Scotland Bill is hocus-pocus

The benefits are simply bogus

It’s a Bill that reeks of Judas.

Go bile yer heid we heard enough

Lets get Independence quick enough

Its time to educate & win the minds

Hearts & heads of every kind

You voted No last time?

YES, you can change your mind

Get your NO pals to vote SNP

It’s Your future, can you see

It’s the ONLY way

For Scotland to gain prosperity

To be rid of persistent poverty

To realize our history

To bring back our dignity

Pride in our country

From Shetland to Galloway

Listen you hear that word my friends

Softly from the bens & glens

Louder in the cities & the schemes

In your hearts & in your dreams

Hear It! Say it!

INDEPENDENCE is coming have no fear!

INDEPENDENCE work for it you hear!

Win more minds and win more souls

Win the vote that history stole

Listen it’s like a train

Here it comes again and again

Climb on board the INDEPENDENCE TRAIN

You got your ticket? Let me see!

You good! You are SNP!

Others tae must catch this train

We need the masses &

& all the classes

Folk that are angry

Folk that are hungry

Folk in business

On farms ‘n factory

Folk that work in public service

The Teacher, nurse, young apprentice

The TRAIN is now at your station

Destination the Scottish NATION


A Letter To Scotland

Posted on November 26th, 2015

Dear Scotland,

I am writing in response to your recent complaints about the customer service experience you feel has been less than satisfactory in your dealings with Westminster. As I understand it, your complaints concern our general attitude towards you and some specific instances where you believe you have been unfairly treated.

I should begin by pointing out that Westminster Parliaments have not altered their method of operation since the 17th Century. It seems incredible that you have failed to realise this when a simple look through Britain’s history would show that we never relinquish authority unless there is no alternative and that our tactics of dissembling, delay and grinding down of opposition have been retained right up to the present day.

I must say that I believe a large part of the current problem stems from your own actions. You were foolish enough to elect a Scottish Government which had long stated its intention to seek independence and you than chose to listen to its arguments in increasing numbers. However, I do not believe that you should blame Westminster for your ultimate decision to remain part of the UK since many of you chose to believe the promises and blatantly inaccurate claims of the Better Together campaign when it should have been evident that Westminster had no intention of keeping those promises.

Your subsequent decision to elect an overwhelming majority of SNP MPs to the house of Commons also appears utterly bizarre. I can only conclude that you somehow fell for the patently absurd notion that Scottish votes actually count at Westminster, an idea which I must point out was promulgated by Gordon Brown who was merely a backbench Labour MP at the time and so had no authority to promise anything. That you repeatedly fell for his brand of fabricated nonsense is not really the fault of the current Westminster Government.

Despite this, you claim some successes, notably in forcing a reversal of an earlier decision to impose cuts to Working Tax credits. In fact, this reversal was not due to your opposition since, with the assistance of our allies in the Labour Party, we were successful in winning the vote in the House of Commons. The fact that the House of Lords imposed a delay is a matter the Prime Minister will be taking steps to address to ensure that there are no repeats of this absurd situation where a bunch of unelected toffs can overrulle a democratically elected Government.

In any event, thanks to the Office For Budget Responsibility realising that the forecasts they made in July were complete rubbish, I have now been able to announce a change to the decision on Working Tax Credits. Your snide remarks that the OBR have not made a single accurate forecast in their entire existence is unhelpful. Using facts like that is clearly misguided since such esteemed entities such as the BBC, the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily express, the Sun and the Economist believe every word the OBR say and repeat it frequently in order to ensure that the citizens of the UK have access to information which supports my claims. The OBR may well come up with a completely different set of projections next year (or perhaps next week) but this will not affect my decision on Tax Credits since most members of the media appear to have completely missed the rather obvious point that these benefits will eventually be replaced by Universal Credit. This new Benefit will be paid at a rate which will ensure that the working classes receive far less Government assistance than they do now, although I should caveat this by pointing out that the computer system intended to operate Universal Credit is, in accordance with most Government system developments, significantly behind schedule and vastly in excess of budgeted costs. Still, we’ll get there in the end and there is nothing you can do about it.

I understand that you are also unhappy with the provisions of the new Scotland Bill. The fact that the members of the House of Lords have actually stayed awake long enough to realise that the entire fiscal process underpinning the proposed Bill is nonsense proves nothing at all and, as I mentioned earlier, we will be taking steps to nullify the powers of that assembly in due course. As things stand, the Scotland Bill will make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world. We have said this many times, so it must be correct. Your request for examples of other devolved Parliaments with which to compare Holyrood is mere semantics and can easily be refuted although I do not actually have the information to hand and will need to get back to you at some point in the future. If I remember.

Turning to your comments on economic policy, Westminster has a long term plan which is working. This is undeniable, since the media confirm it whenever we tell them to. You claim that there is an alternative way of operating since the austerity economic model is based on a mistake in a spreadsheet and that the majority of economists claim it is self-defeating. This must be a false assertion. I have several copies of The economist on my desk and reading the headlines of their articles confirms that the Westminster Government’s policies are correct. Your own ideas such as providing free prescriptions, free university tuition and free travel for the elderly are mere political bribes to a gullible populace who appear to believe that a Government which implements policies they approve of is a good Government. Your bribes are not at all comparable to the assistance we constantly provide to big businesses, the wealthy and pensioners. The fact that these are the people who consistently vote for us is, I can assure you, merely coincidence.

In essence, then, your claims are worthless. You had your chance to leave but, despite all the evidence to the contrary, you decided you would be better off if you remained part of the UK. That is hardly the fault of Westminster. Besides which, it is clear that Scotland could not cope as an independent country. Again, we have said this repeatedly and the media agree with us so it must be correct. Under the beneficent guidance of successive Westminster Governments, your industries such as steelworking and shipbuilding have collapsed, your power stations are closing down, your renewable industries are unable to develop without subsidy so much so that we have been forced to divert billions of pounds of subsidy into nuclear energy and to seek sources of alternative renewable power from countries such as Ireland and Norway. In addition, the broad shoulders of the UK have failed to protect jobs in steel, finance, retail, engineering, oil & gas, printing, construction, journalism and many other sectors. I refute your assertion that the payment of incentives to firms to close down their Scottish operations and move to England has anything to do with any of these. It is self-evident that investing money in English offices for the likes of HMRC is better for the country as a whole than maintaining similar centres in Scotland; no less an intellectual powerhouse than Boris Johnson has said so and who can argue with him?

What this boils down to is absolute proof that Scotland is an economic wasteland, unable to cope as an independent country. As such, your complaints against Westminster are unfounded and absolutely no compensation will be paid. In fact, Westminster’s policies will ensure that any compensation flows to us from you.

Please stop complaining. You voted for this.

Regards,

Gideon Chancellor


Reviewing the Review

Posted on November 24th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So we’ve had another Strategic Defence & security Review. Well, it’s only right that the Government should keep one of its prime responsibilities under review, so no complaints there. What does seem odd, though, is that this review is reversing some of the decisions made as a result of the last one.

For example, having scrapped a fleet of maritime patrol aircraft, the Nimrods which were being updated to ensure they could meet modern requirements, we are now apparently going to purchase some converted American airliners which will now be capable of use as maritime patrol aircraft. So, instead of boosting British air industry, we’re supporting our allies. Great. But we do need these aircraft because we currently rely on Ireland and other NATO countries for maritime patrol. Fortunately, the Russians have cooperated in driving this change of policy by the UK Government by helpfully sending a submarine into Scottish waters on the very day that the SDSR was being announced. That’s international cooperation for you. The one thing missing from most news reports on this decision, though, is that it has allegedly cost over £3 billion. Many people warned that scrapping the Nimrod fleet was a bad idea and I suppose we should be grateful the UK Government has at last acknowledged their stupidity, if not their financial mismanagement.

Sticking with aerial matters, it seems the UK is purchasing yet more of the inordinately expensive F35 jets for our aircraft carriers. Britain has already paid out billions of dollars to help fund the development of these aircraft so it makes sense to benefit from that investment by actually using the aircraft. Except that there is a big problem with these planes, namely that they don’t work properly. F35 engines have a tendency to burst into flames at unexpected moments, a habit which caused the entire US fleet of these planes to be grounded last year and why only a dummy was perched on the deck of Britain’s new aircraft carrier when it was launched. And even if the engine problems are resolved, the F35 won’t be much use in combat since it doesn’t have working targeting software for its guns, so it can’t actually shoot at anything. Still, never mind, it can carry bombs so we’re fine for bombing Muslim countries, which is what Britain’s foreign policy seems to mostly consist of these days.

The other major aspect of the SDSR is the news that the number of frigates to be built on the Clyde is to be cut from the 13 promised during the IndieRef to only 8. Oh, well. Just another Better Together promise broken, a few thousand jobs at risk in the shipyards and a smaller conventional Navy than we were promised.

There’s not much to say about the extra money suddenly found to boost Special Forces and anti-terrorist units. The problem with decrying that expenditure is that the Government is very secretive about the terror plots it claims to have prevented. They may be right and the money might be well spent but there are a few well-informed commentators who claim that much of this is hyperbole which serves only to ensure the growth of the security industry and the grip on power of the Westminster Establishment.

But at least we’re getting to renew Trident. That ought to frighten the terrorists, not to mention Russian submarines.


A Cunning Plan

Posted on November 19th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The Westminster Parties have a cunning plan to bring Scotland back into the Unionist fold. Actually, it’s not all that cunning and it has all the hallmarks of one of Baldrick’s ideas from Blackadder because it contains the seeds of its own failure.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work according to Westminster thinking. What they do is impose draconian cuts to the Scottish budget and to social welfare payments, thus forcing the Scottish Government either to use money it doesn’t really have to counter the effects of the cuts or to allow the cuts to go through, thus affecting the lives of thousands of people living in Scotland. Either way, the Scottish Government can be painted as failing in its duty of care.

“Use your powers!" the Unionists cry, knowing full well that none of the new powers have yet come into force and, even when they do, they are designed so that it will be ordinary Scots who end up paying more, thus providing yet another opportunity for Westminster and their pet media to point the finger and proclaim SNP policies a failure.

“We told you," they will gloat. “An independent Scotland would be a place where everyone pays more tax. This proves it."

It proves nothing of the sort, of course, since an independent Scotland would have power over far more sources of revenue than Income tax alone and would not have a cap on its income as is currently the case.

However, the media attacks continue unabated and Labour are acting as the Tories’ loyal allies in backing the cuts to Tax credits solely in order to damage the SNP. Gordon Brown, who continues to be one of the Tories’ chief stooges, has said that the SNP must either counter the Tax credit cuts or back them. This is, as usual with Brown, arrant nonsense. The SNP are not backing these cuts in any shape or form. It is perfectly possible to oppose a Government policy and yet be unable to do anything to counter it effectively but I suppose you can’t expect a Labour politician to understand what opposition means.

The reason the Tories and Labour are doing this is clear. Eventually, they believe, Scotland will become the economic basket case they have always intended it to be. The Scottish Government will run out of money, services will be slashed and the voters will see sense, electing a Unionist Party to govern at Holyrood. For Westminster purposes, it does not matter whether that Party is Labour or Conservative, as long as it is a loyal Unionist Party. It seems unlikely that they would go as far as forming a Tory / Labour coalition because that would reveal the true extent of their duplicity but nothing can be entirely ruled out. Whichever Party takes over, though, the normal order of things will have been restored, the Scottish block grant can be increased just enough to make some small improvements and Scotland will have been saved once again by the broad shoulders of the union.

It might be slightly more cunning than one of Baldrick’s plans but the indications so far are that Westminster has made one big miscalculation. The latest polls confirm that the Scottish electorate can see right through it. Indeed, only the over-65’s appear dead set against the SNP, a fact which can perhaps be explained by two factors. First, that this generation (or should that be genertaion?) were raised on a diet of British greatness and are unable to throw off their loyalty, and, secondly, that this generation is less likely to access information from alternative sources and so still believe the propaganda thrown at them by the media. All other age groups seem undeterred by the spin and SNP-bashing that is a regular feature of TV, radio and newspaper reporting.

But how can this plan be defeated? Electing another SNP Government at Holyrood won’t stop the cuts and, as we have seen, even electing an overwhelming majority of SNP MPs to Westminster isn’t enough to prevent Scotland being punished for having the temerity to voice a desire to leave the UK.

Which leaves only one option and it’s the one the Unionists seem unable to grasp. Fixated on the result of last year’s IndieRef, they continue to believe that a majority of Scots want to remain in the Union. They appear to have forgotten that the majority of Scots wanted Devo Max and that, by failing to provide this despite their promises, they are forcing more and more people towards the conclusion that full independence is the only way Scotland will ever flourish.

I must admit that I have always maintained we missed our chance last year and that a second IndieRef would not happen for many years. What I failed to take into account was just how vindictive and short-sighted the Westminster Establishment is. By following their cunning plan, they are driving us ever closer to independence and it is now more a question of how much damage will be done to Scotland before enough Scottish voters reach the inevitable conclusion. The signs are that it will not take long. The latest IPSOS MORI poll on independence puts support for a Yes vote at 53%, not far short of the so-called “Decisive" result in the IndieRef which condemned us to Tory rule. One poll does not mean a lot but it is an indication that the Baldricks of Westminster have screwed up their calculations.


The Wrong Answer

Posted on November 16th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

There’s nothing very much anyone can say about the horrors that took place in Paris. It has, quite rightly, dominated the news over the weekend. But, as efforts to identify both victims and killers continue, attention on the political front turns to what reaction the West will make. Sadly, this is all too predictable.

The French Air Force has already undertaken further bombing raids and there are calls for the UK to join in. It seems likely that David Cameron will get his wish and be given authority to bomb Islamic State in Syria. While this reaction is understandable because revenge is a basic human instinct, resorting to this sort of violence is not going to solve the problem. The war on Terror has been going on for fourteen years now and bombing doesn’t seem to have made things any better so far. Surely it must be time for a re-think?

It is easy to pontificate, of course. The problem is apparent and the cause – Western imperialist attitudes and interference going back over a century – undeniable. The solution, however, is far from simple.

The fact of the matter is that it is impossible to negotiate with religious fundamentalists like Islamic State, or Daesh, or whatever you want to call them. Violence is their first and only response to every situation. Yet responding with violence isn’t going to eliminate them; it only escalates the conflict and gives them more recruits.

As I say, the answer isn’t easy but perhaps it is time the Western powers took a serious look at their policies in the Middle East. If bombing won’t solve the problem, perhaps cutting off resources might. It’s a bit like the debate over gun control in the USA. Every week sees another shooting of innocent civilians and gun lobbyists in America think providing more guns for people to defend themselves is the answer when, in fact, looking at other countries where guns are banned clearly demonstrates that removing access to firearms reduces the cost in human lives. It doesn’t prevent violence, of course. Every country has its violent citizens as any perusal of newspapers on a Monday morning will show as weekend fights and stabbings are reported, but it does diminish the scale and effect of such violence.

So it could be with Islamic State. Cutting off their funding and access to resources would reduce their capability to carry out atrocities. And here, the West is complicit. It is a more or less open secret that Saudi Arabia is supplying and funding Islamic State because it wishes to keep the region unstable to prevent the Iranian form of Islam gaining supremacy in the region rather than its own Wahhabi sect. And the Saudis are backed by the UK and USA. If we cut that funding, the threat of Islamic State would be significantly reduced. Cutting direct CIA and MI5 backing for other terrorist groups in Syria would also reduce the effect of the current conflict and might go a little way to stemming the flow of refugees.

On that Point, the rush to link refugees with the terrorists is appalling. Some people seem incapable of understanding that the Paris killers are the very sort of thugs the refugees are fleeing from. Indeed, our media is virtually silent on the bombings and shootings that are a regular feature of life in places like Yemen, Lebanon and Syria.

The solution is not to block the refugees but to attempt to resolve the conflict in their home country so that they can return there in peace. That may sound idealistic but surely it is better to attempt to find a peaceful solution rather than resort to a bombing campaign which is doomed to fail.

Sadly, this won’t happen. The War on Terror suits the neo-liberal, right wing agenda. It makes politicians look tough and decisive and it provides them with the perfect excuse to impose restrictions on their own citizens. Authoritarianism requires control and that is precisely what the terrorist attacks provide. Under the guise and banners of protecting freedom, our freedoms are slowly being eroded.

Of course, we need to defend ourselves against violent attacks but there is a big difference between using force to defend yourself and using aggressive force to attack others. Unfortunately, those who control Western societies are firm believers in the mantra that the best form of defence is attack, despite all the evidence which shows that their attacks have been having precisely the opposite effect to the one they claim to be seeking. It’s enough to make you weep, if you weren’t already weeping for the tragic loss of life in Paris.


Scotland Bull

Posted on November 10th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Anyone who tuned in to Parliament TV last night to watch the debate on the Scotland Bill saw Westminster at its finest. In fact, the spectacle was so revealing that some online commentators suggested that the SNP should simply make every person in Scotland watch a recording of the entire debate and so ensure that Scotland becomes independent immediately. The contempt for Scotland was evident in every word spoken by the Unionist MPs, by every facial expression and every farmyard braying noise they uttered although, to be fair, this noise was not particularly loud since the Lib Dems could not be bothered to turn up at all and the Labour and Tory benches were packed with as many as hardly any MPs. When those few souls did stand up to speak in the debate, they spent most of their time talking about English Votes for English Laws.

It all changed when it came time to vote, of course. Then, miraculously summoned to vote on something they hadn’t bothered to listen to, Tory MPs arrived in their hundreds to march through the lobby voting down every change the SNP had asked for. Labour, to be fair, only really voted against giving Holyrood the right to control Tax Credits, a hypocritical stance given the hullaballoo Kezia Dugdale and her cronies have been making over Tax credits but that’s Labour for you. On the rest of the issues under discussion, Labour adopted their usual position of abstaining.

So it was that Scotland was graciously granted power over Road Signs but denied any control over things like Tax Credits, Human Rights, and Gender Equality legislation.

The entire thing was a farce. Scotland was denigrated and derided at every opportunity, so much so that Angus Robertson, SNP leader in the Commons, was unable to finish his summing up speech because the Speaker cut him off in mid-sentence, presumably because the Unionist MPs had run out of insults and wanted to go home.

Naturally, we will now see Unionist MPs proclaiming that the Vow has been delivered yet again. That Vow has now been delivered so many times it’s beginning to resemble a pile of junk mail being shoved through Scotland’s metaphoric letterbox.

It’s not all over yet, though. The House of Lords, that bastion of democracy, has still to go over the Bill and approve it. Not that anyone with any sense is expecting them to reject or even slightly amend it but the Bill is not yet law and so absolutely nothing has been delivered yet, not even the power to design Road Signs with Saltires on them.


Did U-Turn?

Posted on November 9th, 2015

By Wee Hamish

The SNP have made a humiliating U-turn. Who says so? Scottish Labour and the Scottish media, so it must be right then, mustn’t it? They wouldn’t lie to us, would they?

But hang on, what is this humiliating and embarrassing U-turn? It’s to do with Tax Credit cuts. The SNP said they had no power to reverse the cuts which (shock! Horror!) was actually true because the proposed Scotland Bill gave them no authority to do anything with the reserved areas of Welfare. It would have been the Bedroom Tax all over again, with the Scottish Government having to beg Westminster for the right to offset the cuts.

Then Viceroy Fluffy, David Mundell, announced proposed changes to the Scotland Bill and these included the right for the Scottish Government to set up new social security payments. That’s when the SNP said they could do something after all.

It’s not really a U-turn, is it? A u-turn is when you change your mind simply because you realise you were wrong once people start protesting. A U-turn isn’t changing your mind when you learn that the facts on which you based your original decision have been altered.

Not that this will prevent the media from banging on about the embarrassment and humiliation of a U-turn because that’s what the Scottish media do. What they’re not saying is that the power to make additional payments is not quite the same as having the power to reverse the Tax Credit cuts. It’s not the same at all, because there are rumours that any additional payments the Scottish Government makes could be regarded as extra income by those lovely people at the DWP and so will mean a further reduction in Tax credit payments.

On top of all that, the Scottish Government has no administration system in place which would let it make the payments in the first place.

And where is it supposed to find the money? Labour and their media pets keep asking if the SNP will reverse the cuts in full which is stupid because we don’t yet know the full extent of the cuts.

But the worst thing about this whole media circus is that Scottish Labour are playing politics simply so they can bash the SNP. The media, naturally, are joining in because they see it as their job to run down the SNP at every opportunity.

What they are missing is the biggest point of the whole thing. It’s that these problems were created by the Tories in Westminster and allowed to pass by the spineless refusal of UK Labour to oppose them. Now, both Tories and Labour in Holyrood are whining and pointing fingers at the SNP and claiming it is all their fault. Maybe that’s what they meant when they said they were Better Together. Better at joining forces to keep Scotland under Westminster’s thumb, better at ganging up on the Party a majority of Scots support, better at behaving like spoilt kids in a playground rammy.

The sad thing is, I’ve heard a lot of people who believe this guff. The media are pushing it for all it is worth because it’s a great chance to put the SNP on the spot over an issue they did not cause. It’s a bit like blaming the paramedics when someone dies after a terrorist attack because they ran out of bandages because of the sheer number of casualties. That’s the way Scottish Labour think and how the newspapers and the BBC misrepresent the truth in order to attack the SNP. I, for one, hope that the Scottish voters see through this pathetic stunt for what it is and hurt both Labour and the Tories next year by kicking them where it hurts the most – in the ballot boxes.


Poppy Dilemma

Posted on November 8th, 2015

By Blind Pew

I’ve always supported the Poppy Appeal. I had several reasons for this. First, having studied history in general and World War 1 in particular, I have always been appalled at the cost in human lives that this conflict brought about, especially because the reasons for the war were little more than the conflicting ambitions of colonial European rulers.

The Second World War, certainly more justifiable from Britain’s perspective, resulted in even greater loss of life, among civilians as well as combatants. Such waste needed to be commemorated, if only to serve as a reminder of the horrors of war.

Another reason was more personal. My father served during World War 2 and was severely wounded. When he was eventually discharged, he was classified as disabled but the help he received from the UK Government was minimal at best. That’s one reason why I always thought the Poppy Appeal was important because Britain has a long and not so proud history of discarding its ex-service personnel and tossing them on the scrapheap rather than welcoming them into its much lauded “Land Fit For Heroes".

Some might argue that the passing of time means that the funds raised by the Poppy Appeal are going to men and women who have fought in less worthy wars but I do not subscribe to this view. It is politicians who declare wars, not soldiers. The men and women of the Armed Forces have no say in when or where they will fight and if some of the wars Britain has engaged in over the years have been morally dubious, that is not the fault of the front line combatants. For those who return with physical or mental wounds, the Poppy Appeal must be great help.

But recent years have made me think twice about giving unswerving support to this Appeal. That’s not because the cause of helping injured veterans is any less valid but because the symbol of the Poppy has come to mean something that is at odds with one of my principal reasons for donating every year.

Symbols are important but they can be appropriated and used to represent something quite at odds with their original meaning. The most notorious example is the swastika which used to be a good luck symbol until it was appropriated by the Nazis. The Poppy obviously hasn’t gone that far but in recent years it has come to represent the glorification of war rather than the commemoration of loss. Poppies are painted on warplanes, refusal to wear one is seen as unpatriotic, T-shirts are issued to children with legends proclaiming their intention to join the armed Forces and have a Poppy emblazoned on them. The Royal British Legion, who run the appeal, have links with Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms manufacturer which must be one of the most distorted world views imaginable. The message of the Poppy is not so much, “Let us remember so that it never happens again" but “Keep contributing because it is most definitely going to happen again and more lives will be blighted and require help".

I’ve never been a great one for attending ceremonies. I prefer to remember in my own way and not just on one day a year but every day. This year, I’ve put some money in a Poppy Appeal box but won’t be wearing the Poppy itself. That’s a sort of a compromise but I’m not convinced it is the right one. I expect I shall still be in a quandary next year but one thing I am certain of is that I will not wear a Poppy so long as the UK Government uses it as a symbol of militaristic pride.


Political Games

Posted on November 5th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So the Vow has been / Is being / will be delivered by the Scotland Bill. Not that it would be difficult to claim this since the Vow didn’t actually promise anything very much at all although it is noticeably undelivered in one major aspect – that of timing. If Scotland had voted Yes, we would have been a normal country from March, 2016 but most of the safer, faster powers the Scotland Bill will bring us will not be effective until April, 2017. If anyone can explain how that is faster, I’d be interested to understand.

But we must respect the democratic decision of the Scottish people and the majority voted to remain part of the UK. What remains a mystery is why so many people remain so loyal / frightened / uncertain / gullible that they still cannot see what is being done to Scotland as a result of that vote.

Before the IndieRef, Yes campaigners warned that Scotland would be punished for having the temerity to argue for the right to become a normal country. That warning has, sadly, been fulfilled. The Tories have gone out of their way to punish all Scots, not just those who voted Yes. Whether it is through the cancellation of subsidies for renewable energy, an unwillingness to support the steel industry, the reduction in the Scottish block grant, the forced closure of power stations, or the bribing of Youngs to close their Fraserburgh factory in favour of transferring work to Grimsby, the people of Scotland are being deliberately targeted in a systematic policy of ensuring that we become even more of an economic basketcase so that Westminster can continue to trumpet the need for us to remain within the Union because we are too small and too poor to be independent. It is galling that so many Proud Scots still believe this warped view of their own country and seem unable to see that they are suffering as much as anyone because Westminster simply does not care about them.

But the Scotland Bill is the worst punishment of them all. Far from being intended to provide additional powers to bring us as near to Federalism as possible, it is designed solely as a tool with which to damage the SNP. There is a massive trap and it’s poorly concealed although the Scottish media are doing their best to distract us from it. But it’s a big one and it is called Income Tax.

The cry David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, is making is that the Scottish Government should use its tax powers to mitigate the effects of the Tories own attacks on the poorest people in society. This is quite shocking, since it is virtually an open admission that the Tories are engaged in class warfare but you only need to watch Prime Minister’s Questions on Parliament TV to see hundreds of Tory MPs laughing loudly whenever anyone mentions cuts to tax credits or other Social Security benefits. These people really are the epitome of the neo-liberal mindset that greed and self-interest are moral values to be proud of.

But, you may ask, where is this trap? Why can’t the Scottish Government put our money where its mouth is and increase income tax to offset the Tory cuts? Well, it’s no coincidence that it is Income Tax that the Scottish Government is being given limited powers over. Governments in normal countries have full powers over a variety of levers if they wish to increase their revenues. For example, the list includes Capital Gains Tax, Corporation Tax, Land & Buildings Transaction Tax, Value Added Tax, Inheritance Tax, Import and Export duties, Fuel Duty and Alcohol Duty to name but a few. Admittedly, raising some of these would disproportionately hurt the poorest in society but the point is that normal Governments have a range of tools at their disposal. Some might even argue that lowering Corporation Tax to encourage businesses to locate in Scotland would actually increase the Government’s tax revenue as a result of the new jobs it would create.

But the Scottish Government has no power to do any of this. All it will eventually be able to do is increase Income Tax, the most visible of all taxes. The Scottish media are already primed to launch their attacks if this happens and will no doubt be believed by Proud Scots who have been conditioned by decades of neo-liberal propaganda to believe that high taxes are bad because, you know, greed and self-interest are more important than living in a decent society that tries to look after all its citizens, but which might mean most of us contributing a little more of our income in taxes. If the Scottish Government goes down this route, the media will crucify them but if they do nothing to offset the Tory cuts, the media will crucify them.

That’s why the Tories have called the SNP’s bluff and, if latest news reports are to be believed, have agreed to allow the Scottish Government the power to control Tax credits. This might sound good but it is utterly useless without the resources to replace the money the recipients are going to lose. The Scottish Government has neither the technical systems to administer such a scheme nor the money to cover the cuts unless it makes swingeing reductions in public spending elsewhere or raises Income Tax significantly.

The big moral question is why any Scottish Government should need to do this simply in order to mitigate the anti-social policies of Westminster. Perhaps that’s a question Proud Scots who voted NO could answer. As for the practical question of what the Scottish Government can do, they are in a no win situation until enough of the loyal / frightened / uncertain / gullible wake up and realise that independence from Westminster is the only viable route Scotland can take.

The worst part of all this is that the Tories are playing politics for selfish, short-term goals and it is real people who will suffer the vindictiveness of their attacks on the working poor, the disabled and the unemployed.

As an irritating afterthought, one might ask whether there is any hope to found in a resurgent Labour Party. The short answer is no. Jeremy Corbyn is just another Unionist with little knowledge of, nor interest in, Scotland. His leader in Scotland, Kezia Dugdale, is nothing more than an opportunist, as evidenced by her Twitter feed last night when she crowed that not a single SNP MSP stood up to explain how cutting Air Passenger Duty would help offset the Tax credit cuts she insists her Party would reverse even though they have neither the technical nor financial resources to do so. Of course, the reason nobody explained this was because it is such a moronic argument. Anyone who believes there is a direct link between Air Passenger Duty and Tax Credits really shouldn’t be allowed to hold political office of any sort. But, like her Tory allies, Kezia Dugdale is playing at politics with no heed for the actual harm the Tories are doing to Scotland. She believes we are Better Together but then gloats when a hamstrung Scottish Government is unable to combat the harmful Tory policies she fought so hard to keep us in thrall to.

I wish I could put a positive spin on all this and suggest a way forward but, quite frankly, I can’t see one. Let’s hope Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues can produce the magic wand Labour seem to think they possess. I have no doubt the SNP will do their best but, thanks to the votes of the Proud Scots last year, their options are severely limited. In any event, it will be at least an entire year before the Scottish Government has the legal authority to do anything to offset the cuts which are due to come into effect next April. And that assumes they can somehow manage to build an IT system to administer the required payments. A week may be a long time in politics but a whole year with thousands of pounds taken away from your income will feel like an eternity for thousands of people.

The harsh truth is that if you voted NO in the IndieRef, you bear some of the responsibility for this state of affairs. That is not an attempt to point the finger and apportion blame in a smug way but to try to make you understand that you made a mistake and that there is only one way to rectify it. The sooner a majority of Scots supports independence, the better for all of us. The loyal Unionists will never change their minds but the frightened / uncertain / gullible must surely see that there is more to fear from remaining part of a dysfunctional UK than standing on our own feet like a normal country. It won’t solve all society’s problems because every country has problems but it would remove us from the vindictive impositions of a Westminster elite which is determined to crush any resistance to its hegemony. It would be the first step on the ladder towards a more fair and prosperous Scotland and the sooner we take that step, the better.


On Status Symbols

Posted on November 2nd, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Labour’s muddled and inconsistent position on Trident has been well documented by others but some of our contributors have made some valid points which I thought I’d try to summarise here just so we are all clear on what is happening.

Labour, it must be remembered, spent two years campaigning to keep control of all decisions on Defence at Westminster. The vote at their Scottish Conference is therefore meaningless. While it puts their MSPs and solitary MP in a difficult position and should provide us with plenty of laughs as Kezia Dugdale and Jackie Baillie, both of whom are ardent supporters of Trident, try to realign themselves with their Party membership’s new decision, it really doesn’t matter because it is UK Labour who call the shots and they are in favour of renewing Trident. Whether that position alters between now and when the vote on spending the money is taken is anybody’s guess.

But, as for Scottish Labour, their much-trumpeted reason for retaining Trident was the fact that so many jobs relied on it. Putting aside the fact that Jackie Baillie has put forward some very dodgy statistics on just how many local jobs rely on the Faslane base, the very argument itself must surely be challenged. Are we really saying that a few thousand jobs are worth keeping simply in order to maintain a first strike Armageddon weapons system which, if used, could trigger the end of the world and, if not used, could still result in a catastrophic accident that would virtually wipe out Scotland’s largest centre of population? Is that really a justifiable argument from a moral perspective? To look at a similar case from a couple of hundred years ago, should the slave trade have been maintained in order to preserve the jobs of the slave traders, ship’s crews who transported slaves from Africa and the manufacturers of iron shackles? The idea is preposterous but the case for Trident is even more ridiculous on moral grounds, let alone practical ones.

Trident is a status symbol; nothing more, nothing less. The UK could not and would not launch a nuclear attack without America’s say so. It is a colossal waste of money simply in order to maintain prestige. As for Labour’s idea that multilateral disarmament is preferable, that is the sort of delusional thinking that the phrase, “Fantasy politics" could have been made for. Russia and the USA are never going to disarm their nuclear weapons. Whether Britain does so or not will not make the slightest bit of difference except that becoming a non-nuclear country and making a great show of that might just persuade other countries that we are making some effort to rid ourselvesof the perception that we are imperialistic warmongers.

The simple fact is that, without the vast resources of the Empire to bolster the UK’s finances and with the annihilation of our manufacturing industries over the past decades, Britain cannot afford the enormous cost of its favourite status symbol. Spending billions on renewing Trident would be folly when there are so many British citizens living in poverty. That’s the bottom line and it is sad that Labour politicians in Scotland need to be reminded of it by their rank and file members.


Off Target

Posted on October 28th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Would you like to lose some weight before Christmas? There are still a few weeks to go and, if you aimed to lose two or three pounds each week, you could realistically expect to lose a stone by Christmas. There’s a target for you. It’s challenging but possible. It would mean cutting down your food intake, eating healthily and taking plenty of vigorous exercise but you could do it.

Of course, there is rarely a good time of year for dieting. Life tends to get in the way and present such obstacles as birthday celebrations involving cake, lunch dates, evenings out and just the odd occasion when you really, really want that burger, packet of crisps or bar of chocolate. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say you tried to lose that stone and made a good effort at it. How would you feel if, come Christmas Eve, you stand on the scales and have lost twelve pounds? (For the metrically minded among you, say you’ve lost 5.5kg out of a target of 6.5kg).

Have you failed? Technically, yes, because you didn’t hit your target. But you still lost a good deal of weight and proved you could more or less stick to the self-imposed regime. That’s the problem with targets, you see. They are often fairly arbitrary constructs designed simply to encourage a certain behaviour change. Whether you actually hit them or not is often not the point although that would obviously be an ideal. But in the weight loss example, why impose Christmas as a deadline? It’s an obvious choice because of the expected overindulgence but you could equally set yourself the target of losing two stones by the end of February, taking account of some excesses during the Christmas break and coming close to achieving the second target would be an achievement in itself because, unlike targets, actual achievements are real, tangible things.

So it is with the targets for reduction in carbon emissions set by the Scottish Government. The latest figures reveal that the target has been missed for the fourth year in a row and Patrick Harvie, Green MSP, has been expressing his concern over the failure. He is quite right to do this because it is his job to keep pressure on the Scottish Government but the story has, as usual, allowed the Scottish media to produce yet more #SNPBad stories over failure to achieve targets. But while the politicians squabble over the reasons for the failure, it remains true that Scotland’s carbon emissions are reducing, just not as quickly as the Government had hoped. As with other areas such as NHS waiting times and monitoring of school pupil performance, the Scottish Government has set itself very challenging targets. This is only right because setting easy targets defeats their purpose. If the effect of those targets is to improve things overall, then failing to regularly achieve them is not a complete failure in the way that the media likes to portray them.

WE must, of course, be wary of targets. They can be useful but they can also be harmful. For example, the setting of targets for staff working in the financial industry was a major contributor to the culture of taking short cuts in order to achieve short term goals and thus earn individual bonuses at the risk of less spectacular but steady and sustainable growth.

Targets need to be challenging but realistically achievable. They also need to have a purpose. The purpose is not merely to hit a target but to encourage a cultural shift in behaviour patterns in order to bring about lasting improvements in whatever field they are used. Setting arbitrary and nonsensical targets simply in order to appease public opinion is, sadly, all too common in politics. Examples include David Cameron’s assertion that immigration would be cut to “tens of thousands" in apparent ignorance of the fact that the UK cannot control migration from within the EU. If you cannot possibly control something, setting a target to control it is simply absurd.

So let us by all means maintain pressure on the Scottish Government to achieve their targets where those targets are sensible in their aim of improving things but let us also acknowledge that missing a target does not necessarily mean that your entire policy is a failure.


EVEL Plans

Posted on October 24th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

EVEL, the English Votes for English Laws legislation, has exercised a great deal of comment in political circles over the past couple of days. Much of this is spin, because the practical impact is not that great. If you want to read a summary of how it works in practice, check out Lallands Peat worrier’s excellent blog article at:

http://lallandspeatworrier.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/what-does-evel-actually-do.html

However, while the estimable LPW has pointed out that things are not as politicians are portraying them, that has not stopped the Scottish media putting their own spin on things, with the BBC at the forefront as usual. Their presenters have consistently stated that the EVEL rules mean that SNP MPs are now second class MPs. In fact, of course, this rule applies to all non-English MPs, no matter which Party they belong to. It is not just the SNP who are affected. Perhaps the most favourable interpretation we can place on the BBC’s stance is that their news reporters are irredeemably stupid and do not understand the basic facts behind the news they are presentin, because the alternative is that they are deliberately misleading the public, and we all know the BBC would never do that.

It doesn’t stop there, of course. Many Labour-voting pundits have tried to defend EVEL as only fair, apparently in ignorance of one of its main effects, which is to effectively render Scottish Labour redundant in UK terms.

How so? Well, as Lallands Peat Worrier has pointed out, any future Labour Government at Westminster cannot rely on its Scottish MPs to form its majority because those MPs would be excluded from the Veto stage of any English-only legislation the Government tried to push through. A Labour Government would need to have a majority of English MPs to have a chance of passing new laws without risk of defeat. Its Scottish MPs are, in that case, most definitely second class and, as far as Labour are concerned, must be regarded as superfluous when it comes to targeting electoral seats in the next General Election.

The same applies to all parties, of course, but the Liberal Democrats are never going to form a Government at Westminster and the Tories wrote Scotland off a long time ago, recognising that their core support is based in England. Perhaps Scottish Labour have realised this, thus explaining their reticence on the subject so far but many of their supporters don’t seem to have twigged it yet. They probably need some time to work it out.

Aside from marginalising Scottish Labour, EVEL has a rather low practical effect. This is because very few Bills can truly be regarded as affecting only England and because, even if such a Bill passes the English Veto stage and Scottish MPs are permitted to engage in the final debate and vote, the Tories can still push the legislation through because they have an absolute majority in the House of Commons. As we have seen from many analyses of Westminster votes, Scottish MPs very rarely affect the outcome of any vote because of their relatively small number. This was what lay at the heart of the Scottish independence movement in the first place but Scottish voters were persuaded that having their country governed by English Tories was preferable to governing themselves, so we are stuck with the democratic deficit whether we like it or not.

Having said all that, there is another, perhaps more significant aspect to EVEL. It is the symbolic effect.

With all due respect to Lallands Peat Worrier, we cannot ignore the symbolism here. Symbols are important; people respond to them and identify with them. This is why supporters of sporting teams wear their team’s colours, why people dress up to look like their music and celebrity favourites, why teenagers put posters on their walls, why manufactureres put their badges and logos on their goods and products, and why countries have a national flag for people to wave when they want to confirm their identity and support.

But what is the symbolism of EVEL? It is most certainly that Scottish MPs are second class in their own UK Parliament. This is the line the Tories have pushed because they want to appeal to their core English electorate and it is the angle the SNP have pushed because it suits their grievance agenda. It is also the line which will, eventually, backfire on the Tories.

Remember last year when Scots were urged not to leave the UK but to lead it? Then the SNP won a landslide in Scottish seats and the rhetoric became very different indeed. During the EVEL debate, one Tory MP told them to get on a plane and go home. This sort of overt racism is what Tory supporters in England like to hear and it’s exactly what the Tory Party are giving them.

At this point, I must mention MPs from Wales and Northern Ireland because they are affected too, even though nobody seems to be talking about them. The problem is that the Tories are behaving like playground bullies, strutting and posing, and shoving people around as it suits them. Welsh MPs are ignored as irrelevant and those Northern Irish MPs who take up their seats are such staunch supporters of the Union that the Tories feel they can heap any indignity on them without fear of complaint and so treat them as expendable allies.

But let’s get back to Scotland. After the IndieRef, David Cameron showed his true colours by immediately announcing his EVEL plans because constitutional change needed to run in tandem if al parts of the UK were to be treated fairly. Fine sounding words but, as so often, they were lies. England now has its constitutional change while the Scotland Bill is still being talked about and, even when it does eventually become law will offer Scotland very little real change.

Scotland, in other words, has been shafted and this is why the symbolic effect of EVEL only adds fuel to the SNP, the main reason why they are up in arms about it. It allows them to promote the idea that Westminster is, first and foremost, an English Parliament and that it cares little for what happens in Scotland. Even those who voted No in the IndieRef are now faced with the knowledge that their democratically elected MP is viewed by the House of Commons as less important than English MPs.

Nobody can deny that the infamous West Lothian Question needs an answer but the correct way to go about providing a solution would be for all four nations within the Union to have their own devolved Parliament, with each having the same powers, while Westminster provided over-arching control of UK issues for all four. That would be fair and equitable but Westminster is jealous of its power and will not relinquish its authority unless it has no choice. What the Tories have done is implement a botched, mess of an idea simply in order to achieve the short term political goals of hamstringing Labour and marginalising the SNP. While they may well have succeeded in the first of those aims, the second one will only serve to inflame the feeling that Scots are despised by Westminster. It plays into the hands of the SNP because, whatever the practical limitations of EVEL, it is the perception which will count with the electorate and the perception is very much that Scottish MPs and, by extension, the people they represent, are second class citizens. Any Government that treats its people that way is going to find itself in trouble the next time those voters go to the ballot box.


Positive Case?

Posted on October 22nd, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The more you think about the EU, the less it has to commend it. You only need to consider the treatment Greece received this year for daring to speak up against neo-liberal austerity to see that the money men rule the EU and are not prepared to let anyone stand in their way. It is a shocking way to treat anyone, especially as those who will suffer the most are the ordinary Greek people who are not to blame for the irresponsible actions of their former Governments. Having seen what the EU will do to anyone who steps out of line, it gives us reason to consider whether staying in is really a good idea. What we should not forget, though, is that membership of the EU is not the same as being in the Eurozone and needing to adopt the financial constraints imposed by using the Euro as your currency.

But then there is TTIP. This is really scary and it looks as if it is going to be imposed over the wishes of the majority of European citizens simply in order to increase the stranglehold that corporate entities have on our lives.

IN short, the EU seems to be going out of its way to harm its citizens. How long people will put up with that remains to be seen but the example of Greece will certainly make people hesitant to challenge the impositions of TTIP and any similar deals that may go through. It will take a political leader with a lot more conviction than Jeremy Corbyn or Alexis Tsipras to challenge the EU Establishment and their corporate and financial backers.

Then, closer to home, there is the Stronger in Europe campaign. Oh dear. Looking at the faces involved and the arguments they have put forwards so far, this is just Better Together reincarnated. They have already made appeals to people’s financial greed, to silly fear of possible consequences on fairly trivial matters, and to British patriotism. We saw all this during the IndieRef and it was easily debunked as Unionist propaganda and lies.

Fortunately, the SNP have announced that they will run their own campaign and will not stand shoulder to shoulder with the Westminster groups who want to remain in the EU but it must be said that they will have their work cut out to make a positive case for the EU. The simple fact will always remain that the arguments being touted are the same arguments the Yes campaign in Scotland battled against last year.

As with the Scottish IndieRef, the Press will have a vital role to play and it seems that the majority of newspapers are in favour of leaving the EU. This will make the SIE group’s task even more difficult, especially if the BBC follows the lead of the newspapers. The Beeb is in a difficult situation, with the Tory Government already threatening it because it is not Right Wing enough but the BBC is expert at manipulating and editing the news in order to present a subtle bias and this may yet prove to be SIE’s undoing.

The Out Of Europe side have a lot of powerful allies and it must not be forgotten that UKIP consistently poll well in England and that many Tories are virulently Eurosceptic. Adding those two groups together will provide a large block of votes for leaving the EU, especially when you consider that many Tory voters tend to be supportive of authoritarian and xenophobic leaders and this may well sway many of them towards a vote to leave the EU. The fact that many of the arguments they will now believe are diametrically opposite to the arguments they used during the IndieRef will not matter because logic rarely interferes in the thought processes of Unionists.

But what about a logical decision for Scottish Yes voters? Can we really side with the same liars and fraudsters who opposed us last year? Can we really abide the appeals to BritNattery and the fearmongering about the dire consequences of leaving the EU? Would our own logic not be flawed if we did this?

Yes, it would if that was the basis of our thought processes. However, there is a way round this. First of all, let us hope that the SNP, against all the odds, can come up with something positive to say about the EU without adopting the pathetic tactics of the SIE group. Secondly, and more importantly, we should always cast our votes in any referendum or election based on what we think is best for the country rather than what is best for ourselves because those are not necessarily the same thing for everybody. And if you believe that it is in Scotland’s best interests to be an independent country, then a Stay IN vote is surely the most sensible thing to do because the chances are that England will vote to leave and that will be a material change of circumstances which might just persuade enough Scottish voters that we should leave the UK.

There is a risk, of course, that even this dramatic evidence that England calls the shots and Scotland must simply accept what it is told to do may not be enough to swing the Yes to Indie vote over the 50% mark but we must believe that it will be the straw that breaks the Union’s back. One additional consequence which might help tip the balance is that a vote to leave the U would probably result in David Cameron resigning as Prime Minister. His successor is likely to be one of three equally unpalatable characters as far as Scotland is concerned: George Osborne, Boris Johnson or Theresa May. Surely that would be the signal for many more people to wish to leave the UK?

Then, once we are independent, we can always review our situation as regards the EU. If it continues down the neo-liberal, TTIP-loving route, an independent Scotland could always opt to leave in a few years’ time because, after all, there would already have been a precedent for that.


Don't Play Their Game

Posted on October 20th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Rev. Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland is a controversial figure. As most pro-Indie Scots know, he produces some of the best political journalism around and is usually able to counter any Unionist claims by using such dastardly tactics as researching material and quoting facts. He is quite brilliant at this and we all know it.

However, the reason he is controversial is that he often says thing online which are designed to provoke people and he isn’t averse to hurling insults. He was at it again at the weekend, responding to J K Rowling’s Tweet that she was proud of Scotland’s Rugby team by telling her she could f*** off because she doesn’t even believe Scotland is a nation.

Now, I can understand a Rugby fan’s anger at the way the match ended and I must confess that I am bemused by the attitude of the mostly middle-class Scots who will wear kilts, drape themselves in Saltires and sing Flower of Scotland at a Rugby match but then immediately revert to insisting Scotland is not capable of being an independent country as soon as the game is over. It must be said, though, that most of us identify with people from our own area who succeed at something, be it sport, artistic endeavour or whatever, and we don’t tend to think too much about any political aspect to this. The cognitive dissonance employed by the likes of J K rowling is simply another manifestation of Proud Scottery and, while I cannot claim to understand it, I find it pathetic rather than it being a cause for anger.

But that is beside the point. IN targeting J K Rowling, Rev. Stu has done the pro-Indie campaign a disservice. This is because Ms Rowling was able to go bleating to the media about CyberNat abuse and, needless to say, the media duly obliged, gleefully reporting the vicious and vile abuse. I am assured that BBC Scotland even got in on the act, including the story on Reporting Scotland.

There was much online discussion, with many on the Yes side supporting Rev Stu on the grounds that there is no point in being nice to Unionists because the media will invent and distort stories to demonise us anyway. Evidence of this was last week’s laughable claim that Mhairi Black MP can’t genuinely be working class because she lives in a nice house near a golf course.

Others claim that the abuse coming the other way is far worse than anything Rev Stu has said and, again, this is absolutely correct. J K Rowling’s followers responded to Wings with a torrent of foulness which was much worse than his original Tweet and none of this was reported at all by the media.

And that’s where the problem lies. Ms Rowling is not above making provocative claims herself. During the IndieRef she said that some aspects of the Scottish Nationalist cause were “Death Eaterish". Now, I confess I have never read her books but I am led to believe that Death eaters are some of her fictional characters who are true-blood supremacists intent on killing or at least dominating those they regard as tainted lesser mortals. Not at all like Nazis, then. Glad we’ve got that clear.

It really isn’t worth antagonising Ms Rowling because, in the eyes of her followers, she can do no wrong and they are quick to retaliate against anyone who dares suggest she is less than omniscient to the point of infallibility. Not that she has a cult following to back her up in any Twitter spat, you understand, because it is only supporters of the SNP who are a cult. The media is very clear on that.

And that is why I think Rev Stu really should have kept his thoughts to himself on this matter and why all pro-Indie Scots should stop antagonising and provoking staunch Unionists by insulting them. Nobody likes being approached in the street by someone shouting swear words at them and just because it is becoming accepted behaviour on Twitter doesn’t make it any more palatable.

There are two main reasons why we should not stoop to this sort of online insult. First, we want to persuade people who voted No in the IndieRef to come round to our point of view. Swearing at Unionists who aren’t going to change their minds serves no purpose whatsoever and, because the media will ignore Unionist abuse but loudly proclaim any CyberNat insults, the image of vicious online attacks is portrayed as being one-sided. This will, in turn, put off many of the people we need to convince to change their minds because they won’t want to be associated with online bullying.

We know the media is biased. We know they are just waiting for a chance to tell the world how vicious and aggressive we are. We know this, so let’s stop giving them opportunities to prove their claims. They are never going to report Unionist abuse, even though there is plenty of evidence that it is far more frequent and far more disgusting than most so-called CyberNat abuse. What we should do is starve them of ammunition and let them resort to the sort of absurd Mhairi Black golf course claim because that sort of stupidity helps our cause no end while swearing at people like J K Rolwing who can create a media storm at a moment’s notice does us no good at all.

And I hope that’s the last time I’ll ever need to write anything like this.


We All Make Mistakes

Posted on October 16th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

I try not to watch BBC’s Question Time because, as revealed in our recent post by Major Tom, it’s little more than a platform for the establishment to promote their view of the world. It seems I missed one of QT’s better moments yesterday when a lady in the audience berated a Tory Minister for the cuts to Tax Credits which will leave her and her family in dire straits. The lady said she had voted Tory because she believed they would do the best for her and her family and she feels betrayed by their assault on the poorly paid.

The response on Twitter has fallen into two categories, with a great many people saying they have no sympathy for anyone who voted Tory because the lady is getting precisely what she voted for and obviously was happy enough knowing that the Tories had targeted the disabled and unemployed for the previous five years. On the other hand, the view being expressed by some is that people who realise they have made a mistake should be welcomed into the anti-Tory fold.

Now, the response of, “I told you so," is a natural one and we all do it. Indeed, with five years of Tory attacks on the poorest in society, it is difficult to understand why anyone on low income would vote for them at all. What we must not forget, though, is that the majority of people in England have not had the experience that people in Scotland encountered and are not as politically aware as many Scots are now. Too many of them watch and listen to the BBC and believe the distorted view of Britain which is pushed their way; too many of them read the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph and swallow the propaganda without thinking there might be an alternative to what they are being told.

And as for that alternative, English voters do not have the choice of voting for the SNP or Plaid Cymru which is available to people in Scotland and Wales. Their only reasonable choice was Labour, a party which was attempting to be Tory Light and seemed not to really know which direction it wanted to go in. Even now, under Jeremy Corbyn, the media are portraying Labour as shambolic and rudderless although, to be fair, UK Labour seems to be doing its best to emulate the incompetence of Scottish Labour. Faced with the antiquated and grossly unfair First Pat The Post electoral system, voters in England were presented with a terrible choice. Sadly, they chose the party which had the best spin and media support. Many of those voters believed the lies and are now regretting it.

So how should we react to people like the lady on Question Time? should we castigate her or sympathise with her? When you put it like that, anyone who truly supports the values the Yes movement espoused must surely offer sympathy. There is no harm in saying to this lady or others like her who have come to realise their error, “Yes, you made a mistake because you didn’t take the time to inform yourself of the true state of affairs. Now that you have realised this, please join us in opposing the way the Tories are governing. Educate yourself by going online and finding alternative views. Encourage your friends and family to do the same and, hopefully, the next election will have a very different outcome."

After all, it is only by more and more people recognising the ideological brutality of Tory rule that the UK will ever change.


Questionable Time

Posted on October 15th, 2015

By Major Tom

(Editor’s note: During an online discussion about last week’s dreadful episode of BBC’s Question Time, Major Tom revealed that he had once attended a recording of the programme. We invited him to share his experience. Here’s his short account of what happened. Readers can decide for themselves about the extent of stage-managing involved in this programme.)

I attended BBC’s Question Time last year. Beforehand, you were asked to describe your politics if any and to give two current news questions.

They asked me to bring photo ID when attending the recording. Everyone checking in, photo ID's at the ready, were individual people due to the application process. On arrival, they ask u for another up to date question from that week’s top news stories.

I got through registration to coffee and biscuits where we mingled until Dimbleby came back stage to introduce himself and explain proceedings.

Most of us were in little groups, talking about the questions we wanted to ask. I was talking with a group of about 6, all of whom had questions on the jimmy saville scandal which was again BIG news that week and even that day.

We were called into the makeshift studio and a bit of a race was on for front row and prominent seats. I took a seat at the back. I noticed two sets of 3 seats were RESERVED.

An audience panel was picked, chaired by a QT worker, & we warmed up discussing obesity, so it was a funny, lively warm up debate.

The chosen questioners were picked & taken back stage to be coached Just before filming was due to start. Then, just before the panel took their places, the 6 reserved seats were filled by two sets of three from backstage. the set of three by me, all of them with notes and taking notes, included one of the questioners. The other set of 3 got to comment a lot during the recording.

Later in the pub opposite, a whole gang of audience members were discussing our 15 seconds of TV and we all, bar none, mentioned we had 1 of our 3 questions on jimmy saville & were puzzled as to why no question about saville was picked. Then someone bought up the reserved seats issue and we all thought certainly these 6 had been together in trying to embarrass 1 particular high ranking Labour figure. We all agreed that they were planted.

That is as much as I am prepared to say at present.


Saving The Children

Posted on October 14th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health is calling on the next Scottish Government to do more to alleviate child poverty. It’s an interesting choice of words, as if there is some doubt about which Party will be in power after next year’s Holyrood election, when the only real doubt is whether the SNP will form a majority or minority Government.

But that’s not really important. What is more important is how this news was presented on Radio Scotland this morning.

Of course, nobody apart from the Tories wants to see any children living in poverty. One child in that situation is one too many and, to credit the Paediatricians, at least they came up with some suggestions instead of simply criticising. However, while a couple of the suggestions linked to the provision of healthcare were eminently sensible, they did gloss over the fact that the amount the Scottish Government receives in pocket money from Westminster is steadily reducing. There was also a rather odd assertion that the Scottish Government should impose a minimum price on alcohol in order to improve overall health rates. Um, did I miss something? It didn’t seem to occur either to the paediatrician making the statement or the BBC interviewer that the Scottish Government has been attempting to do this for the past couple of years but has been blocked by corporate interests within the drinks industry.

However, these are minor gripes because, while the Scottish Government should certainly be urged to prioritise the issue of child poverty, the largest problem of all, again ignored by the BBC interviewer, is that the greatest cause of poverty is lack of a decent income, either due to lack of employment or insufficient social security assistance, nowadays known as Welfare Benefits, and both of these matters are under the control of Westminster.

Whatever you may think of the current Labour Party, it is undeniable that rates of child poverty decreased under the previous Labour UK Government but have steadily increased under the Tories and are set to increase further unless you accept the redefining of poverty which the Tories have pushed through. Poverty hits areas where there is little employment and where social security payments are insufficient to provide even a basic level of subsistence. Everything else, the smoking, alcohol and drugs issues, are predominantly symptoms of the problem, not the causes.

So, while we must all hope that the Scottish Government can do something and puts some measures in place, let’s not kid ourselves by pointing the finger at Holyrood for not doing enough. The BBC may like to blame the SNP for all society’s ills but the fundamental problem lies with Westminster policies and no amount of tinkering around the edges with the limited job creation and welfare powers Holyrood might eventually be granted is going to make much of a difference.


The Worst Ever?

Posted on October 12th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The EU Referendum campaign is beginning to kick off and no doubt there will be many of us expressing opinions on the merits of staying in or leaving. From a tactical perspective, those of us who support Scottish independence may have to hold our noses over the stench of the debate and vote to stay in because, the ways things are looking, the rest of the uK may vote to leave and that would certainly be the material change of circumstance Nicola Sturgeon has mentioned.

As for the debate itself, my only prediction at the moment is that it is going to be truly awful. You only need to look at those involved to see why.

The fact that Nigel Farage will be a vociferous campaigner to leave the EU tells you that it will be more about fearmongering and rhetoric than proper argument. He will, of course, be supported by the Daily Mail which is another fine reason to vote to stay in.

Yet the Stronger In campaign hardly looks any better. They have already made an appeal to patriotism which is reminiscent of the very worst of Better Together and some of the politicians who have already declared they will support the campaign to remain in are familiar faces from the IndieRef. In particular, we can probably expect Gordon Brown to have uninterrupted media coverage of his speeches in which he will produce a timetable, make a Vow which he will personally guarantee will be upheld and then proceed to tell OAPs that their pensions will be at risk if Britain leaves the EU.

Given the calibre of the protagonists, this promises to be one of the worst referendum campaigns in history.


War of Words

Posted on October 11th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The media, and the BBC in particular, are always clever in their choice of words and, over the past few days, we have seen yet another example of the sort of subtle propaganda they regularly push our way.

Following on from their continued use of the word, “migrants" to describe refugees, the description of Jeremy Corbyn as a Left Wing politician while his opponents are described as “moderates", and the constant linking of the words “Muslim" and “Terrorist", there’s another one to watch out for.

The NHS in England has been running a deficit. The media reports insist this is due to overspending, although they are not clear on what, precisely, the money has been overspent on. Is it inflated salaries for NHS staff? Most members of the public would say they are worth every penny they earn. Is it the cost of treating patients? Most patients would welcome the money spent on treating them and if it is the cost of drugs that is the problem, perhaps some investigation of drug Company practices would be more helpful than blaming the NHS. Is it a top-heavy management system? Possibly, although there have been so many cuts that must surely be less of an issue than it once was.

There is no doubt that an exercise in finger-pointing will always find a target in an organisation as large as the NHS and perhaps there have been some instances where money could be saved but the reality is that the Government are deliberately starving the English NHS of money in an attempt to demonstrate that it needs to be privatised along the lines of the US model. The truth is that it is underfunding, not overspending that has caused the deficit. Yet listen out for “underfunding" in any news report and you’ll almost certainly be disappointed.


Big, Bad Bear

Posted on October 10th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Russia seems to have played into NATO’s hands by entering the Syrian conflict. Following on from the annexation of Crimea and the intervention in the Ukraine, Russia is once again the big boogie man. We can expect the BBC and Tory newspapers to run more articles about Russian aircraft flying in international air space near Britain’s borders any time now, just to make sure we all understand that Russia is a major threat to our safety.

But hold on a moment. Let’s try a little “What if?" scenario. Russia used to have troops based in Germany. That was seen as a threat. But how would the UK react if, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the countries of Europe had decided they wanted to voluntarily become allies of Russia and had asked Russia to send troops to help them guard against aggression from the UK? What if Russian troops were based in France?

Can you imagine the horror? The demands for war would be deafening because having a perceived enemy on your borders would be potentially cataclysmic, almost as bad as Scotland becoming independent.

Now look at the reality. The Soviet Union used to control Eastern Europe and had a number of buffer states to protect its own borders and keep their perceived enemies, i.e. NATO, at a distance. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO troops are now based right on Russia’s borders. Don’t you think the Russians are just a little bit concerned about this?

And now NATO is sabre-rattling because Russia has come to the aid of its ally in Syria, President Assad. Now, whatever you think of Assad or ISIS, Russia is doing no more than the USA has done. So, while it is true that Putin has been pushing things as far as he dares, a look at the map of Europe shows that it is Russia, not NATO, which feels most threatened. NATO troops are on its borders, NATO ships patrol the Baltic and the Black Sea and NATO aircraft fly close to Russia’s airspace far, far more frequently than Russian bombers fly near the UK. And history shows us that Russia knows only one way to deal with a perceived threat and that is to flex its military muscles. Seen in that light, the Crimean and Ukrainian expansions are perhaps understandable even if they cannot be condoned.

There is no easy solution to maintaining world peace and there certainly isn’t an easy solution to the problems in the Middle East but we all need to be aware that the British media will be presenting a very one-sided picture of events. Don’t forget that NATO’s sole purpose is to oppose Russia. Without Russia, the organisation has no value. That’s why we can expect a ramping up of the anti-Russian propaganda over the next few days and weeks. Let’s just hope that Messrs. Obama and Cameron take a leaf out of Jeremy Corbyn’s book and keep their fingers off that button.


Tory Rhetoric

Posted on October 6th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Some of the comments being made by speakers at the Conservative Party Conference are truly alarming.

For example, Theresa May’s racist rant against immigrants was so bad that even the Daily Telegraph considered it extreme. Of course, politicians deal in memorable phrases rather than facts but May’s comments were not only distasteful, they were appallingly short-sighted. Her claim that wicked foreigners are stealing jobs implies that there aren’t enough jobs to go round. This may indeed be the case but surely it is one of the major roles of Government to provide employment by encouraging economic growth? That minor detail seems to have eluded the Home Secretary who, instead of providing suggestions as to how an increased workforce could be best employed in a range of new jobs, chose to direct her ire at foreigners as the root cause of unemployment.

Then there was Jeremy Hunt with his appallingly condescending comments about people who will be affected by cuts to Tax Credits. Amongst other things, he suggested the loss of income would encourage them to work harder. It seems he wants British workers to emulate their Chinese counterparts. The fact that this would entail ridiculously long hours for even less pay than British workers receive now was conveniently ignored.

But let’s take a closer look at Hunt’s claim. Imagine, if you will, that you are a single parent with two or three kids and you are working forty hours per week in a minimum wage job. You rely on Tax Credits because the UK has promoted a low wage economy as the way to operate. The funds you receive via Tax Credits are going to reduce and you are supposed to work harder in order to make up the difference.

How?

Are you to take on a second job? WHO will look after your children? Will you need to pay someone to take care of them? How much will that cost?

Or are you supposed to work overtime for your current employer? What if they say that is not necessary and that they won’t pay you for it?

Or are you simply supposed to work harder so that your employer decides to promote you? Fine, but what about your fellow employees? Aren’t they all doing the same? Will they all be promoted? That seems unlikely.

In short, Jeremy Hunt’s comments are just about the most fatuous and ill-considered that any politician has ever uttered.

There are plenty more examples of this sort of rhetoric and no doubt other Tories will present their vision of the future over the next couple of days but what we’ve heard so far can surely only lead us to one of two conclusions.

The most palatable explanation is that the UK is governed by the most Right-Wing, authoritarian, divisive, elitist Government it has seen for many decades. The policies of attacking the Disabled and the least well off have been well documented and show no signs of abating. The contradiction in the basic philosophy, that poor people will work harder if you take money away from them but rich people will work harder if you give them money has been pointed out by several commentators but the Tories are not put out by this at al since it is central to their ideology.

Amidst all this anti-social legislation, they spin the line that they are the party of working people and are claiming the Centre ground in politics. We must therefore conclude that they are greedy, selfish manipulators who do not really care about what happens to ordinary people. The alternative, that they actually believe their own rhetoric, is too horrible to contemplate.


Compare & Contrast

Posted on October 3rd, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Many on the political Left in Scotland welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader. On the face of it, he was a potential ally in the fight against the Tory Government. As we have learned since, much of that optimism was misplaced but I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the similarities between Corbynmania and the Yes movement and also to examine some of the differences.

First, the similarities. Corbyn stood for election on an anti-Austerity, anti-Trident, pro-nationalisation ticket and was voted in as leader by a significant number of Labour members. In all of these things, he was following the SNP lead rather than creating something new even though it was new to the majority of English voters. He also faced a very similar backlash from the Right Wing media. The Yes campaign in Scotland saw the full fury of Project Fear and recognised exactly the same scare tactics being used against Corbyn. Those tactics will continue as long as he remains Labour leader and he faces a very tough challenge if he is to overcome the media portrayal of him.

I must admit that I like his style of PMQ’s and I admire his professed desire for more straight-talking politics. He is not the sort of politician we have seen for the past few decades and he makes a refreshing change.

In theory, he should present a problem for the SNP but, for a variety of reasons, it looks as if he is going to blow his chances of bringing about Labour’s recovery in Scotland and, worse, looks unlikely to succeed in England either.

To begin with, Corbyn is a London MP with no prior knowledge of, nor interest in, Scottish politics. He has clearly taken advice from Scottish Labour and his TV appearances in which he blatantly lied about the SNP, did him no favours at all. We should not forget that Corbyn has been at Westminster for around thirty years and is steeped in its traditions and beliefs. He is a Unionist at heart and this necessarily means he is an opponent of the SNP. The speech at Labour’s conference by his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, confirmed that Corbyn’s Labour want nothing to do with the SNP.

Despite this, it must be in the SNP’s interests to make common cause with Labour at Westminster but they need Labour to be united and this is where Corbyn has his greatest problem. He may have begun something but this is where the similarities between Corbynmania and Yes diverge.

During the IndieRef, the SNP may have started the ball rolling but the wider Yes movement picked it up and carried it much further than anyone could have expected. Any member of the public who wanted information and went online could find plenty of pro-Indie websites and bloggers who would provide information and arguments to counter the newspaper and TV reports, often in a more direct and blunt manner than the SNP could. Some of these arguments may not have been presented in a politically correct manner but they got the message across. And I’m not talking about abusive CyberNat trolls here, but about people who were not constrained by Party politics and could therefore create a new media forum which the Better Together campaign never really succeeded in mastering. And the message was spread by thousands of ordinary people on Twitter, disseminating information among an ever-growing band of converts to Yes.

But when it comes to Corbyn’s vision of Labour, there does not yet seem to have been that groundswell of support that the Yes movement created. There is plenty of support on Twitter and even a handful of bloggers but the movement does not seem to have taken off. It’s as if people are waiting for somebody else to take the first steps. They are relying on Corbyn and, so far, he has not been able to galvanise them. Why is this? One reason could be that the Yes campaign had the backing of a Parliamentary Political Party who provided a constant and consistent message. This official backing for a Yes vote was the rock on which the rest of the Yes campaign was founded. And that is precisely the rock that Corbyn does not have.

Many in the Labour Party oppose Corbyn. The Red Tories have fundamental disagreements with him which could yet see the break-up of the Party. Worse, even people Corbyn has appointed to his Shadow Cabinet have fundamental disagreements with him on a number of key policy areas. As a result, he has already been forced to U-turn on such things as Trident, student tuition fees and nationalisation of the energy companies. These climbdowns make it much more difficult for his supporters to justify his stance as a leader to be followed. He is not leading, he is being pushed around. This is because the people who elected him are not the people he must deal with on a day to day basis, a problem which presents him with a quandary. He says he wants his Labour Party to be democratic but the only way he can gain support for his measures is if he insists on a vote of al Labour members on every issue of policy. If decisions are to be left to the Parliamentary Labour Party, he faces many battles and probably many defeats.

It is early days yet and, despite the difficulties facing him, Jeremy Corbyn may yet turn Labour around. It seems unlikely because he does not yet have a wider support movement to mirror the Yes campaign, his Parliamentary Party is split and he has a hostile media to contend with. As Yes showed us, the media can be challenged effectively but only if you have the other two pillars of support in place. The first might yet come, although Corbyn’s U-turns make supporting him more difficult by the day, but the second, gaining the wholehearted backing of his Parliamentary Party, looks to be well out of his reach.

In short, the Westminster machine will crush him unless he can pull off a major turnaround. From what we’ve seen so far, that doesn’t look likely.


Powerhouse Economics

Posted on September 30th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

So a steelworks in Redcar is to close with the loss of 1,700 direct jobs plus who knows how many more in the area due to the knock on effect of the closure.

It’s a devastating blow to the economy of the North East of England and to the families of the workers and the question must be asked as to whether it could have been avoided.

The worldwide collapse of commodity prices is no secret and the simple fact is that this is affecting businesses everywhere. If the Redcar plant was not viable economically, it is no surprise that it has been forced to close.

It would be unrealistic to expect the UK Government to step in to help every business that was struggling financially so it is no real surprise that no help has been forthcoming so far but one can’t help the feeling that the Government could have done more.

As this site has mentioned in the past, all Governments choose which of their industries to subsidise. The current UK Government has chosen to subsidise the nuclear energy industry and may have good reasons for doing so, although the level of help they are prepared to provide seems out of proportion especially when the main beneficiaries will be the French and Chinese nuclear energy providers.

At the same time, the UK Government has chosen to stop subsidising the renewable energy sector which seems an odd decision given the worldwide clamour for a reduction in carbon emissions and calls for cleaner energy.

The issue with the closure of a large steelworks is that Britain used to subsidise its steel industry. This was stopped by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory Government with the result that most of Scotland’s heavy industry has disappeared over the past few decades. Now, that collapse has reached Redcar.

I don’t know enough about the financial state of the business but I can’t help wondering whether the cost of keeping the business going would outweigh the inevitable extra burden the State is now going to need to meet in Unemployment, Housing and other Benefits as well as retraining programmes for the workers who have lost their jobs.

The other effect of the closure is that it will mean an even greater reliance on the financial sector in London to sustain Britain’s GDP. This, of course, is in keeping with Tory ideology which places its emphasis on the money markets and disdains manufacturing. It’s a very narrow view and results in a lop-sided economy which is vulnerable to global downturns. And there are plenty of economists predicting such a downturn. Let’s hope they are wrong.

In the meantime, though, the events in Redcar don’t really sound much like George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, do they?


Two Wrongs

Posted on September 28th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s been quite amusing to watch the outrage of Labour Lefties over the Tory media attacking Jeremy Corbyn over the past few weeks. What most of those people fail to recognise is that they implicitly believed that same media during the Scottish IndieRef when the Yes campaign in general and Alex Salmond in particular were on the receiveing end of similar smear attacks.

That’s not to say that the anger isn’t justified. The Right Wing newspapers constantly refer to Blairite Labour MPs as “moderates", thereby implying that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters are extremists. The papers are also misrepresenting Labour’s tax plans in an effort to scare the voters of Middle England.

None of which excuses Labour’s own anti-SNP rhetoric. Over the past couple of days we’ve witnessed Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor either put very biased spin on events or tell outright and quite blatant lies which are easily disproved. Quite why they think this will persuade Scottish voters to return to them is a mystery. Having the Tory Press tell lies about you doesn’t justify making up stories about the SNP but it appears Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour isn’t that much different to Milliband’s Labour when it comes to Scotland.

I even saw one Corbyn supporter calling for the green Party to cooperate with Labour in order to oppose Tory austerity measures. That’s the Green Party with one MP. There was no mention of 56 SNP MPs who were elected on an anti-austerity agenda. Labour, it seems, still has a very large blind spot when it comes to Scotland and, instead of reforming Labour into a genuinely socialist Party, Corbyn has reverted to type and fallen back on Westminster traditions and Unionist attitudes. IN short, he has nothing new to offer Scotland. He should have learned by now that the Scottish electorate don’t like being lied to.


Too Much To Ask?

Posted on September 25th, 2015

By Lynne

My eldest daughter was born with a condition known as Achondroplasia. Most people know it as Dwarfism. She’s a teenager now but is only three and a half feet tall, has short limbs, and she suffers a lot of pain in her back and legs due to her spine not being straight. She’s a lovely girl and does her best to get on with life but her condition obviously makes many things the rest of us take for granted very difficult for her.

The most obvious thing is that she uses a wheelchair when she goes to school. She can walk but gets sore and tired if she tries to go too far and, as many people with disabilities know, she has good days and bad days. But even on her good days she doesn’t like going out on her own. Being small, she feels vulnerable in crowds and some people can be pretty horrible to anyone they see as not being what they regard as normal. But it’s not just that. Even simple things like climbing onto buses can be awkward when there’s a wide gap and you’ve only got short legs.

Life at home isn’t that much better. She can’t climb into or out of a bath without help and she can’t wash herself all over because her arms don’t reach. She even struggles to wash and brush her own hair and tie her shoe laces.

Cooking a meal for herself is out of the question because she’s so small she’d need to stand on a stool or stepladder to reach the top of the cooker and her arms don’t have the reach or the strength to lift a hot pot. Even if they did, can you imagine lifting a pot of hot food and trying to climb down from a stool or ladder while holding it? It’s the same with lifting anything hot out of an oven or even a microwave. It’s not only difficult, it’s dangerous.

My daughter goes to our local secondary school who have been very supportive of her special needs but there have still been some practical issues. For example, she wanted to study sciences but there were very real Health & safety concerns over her ability to use lab equipment safely.

So life’s not easy for her or the rest of our family but we try to make the best of it. One thing that helped was that she qualified for Disability Living Allowance from the age of 3. This helped pay for adaptations to the house and for equipment and gadgets which allowed her to do as many things for herself as possible. It also helps cover the cost of alterations to every article of clothing she buys because nothing off the rack fits her.

The problem we now face is that, when she turned 16 she had to apply for the new Personal Independence Payment, PIP, to replace her DLA. With the help of our Local Council Advice Shop, we sent in an application for PIP a few months ago.

After six weeks or so, a lady from ATOS turned up to see my daughter and the special arrangements we’ve made to help her around the house. The lady was quite friendly and reasonable but said she needed to send in a report which the DWP would review.

So we waited.

And waited.

After four months of hearing nothing, I called the DWP to ask what was happening. I was told that they couldn’t understand why I hadn’t heard anything and that they’d look into it for me. The next day I got a phone call telling me my daughter did not qualify for PIP at all. She will receive no money. Not a penny.

I know the newspapers keep going on about Benefits fraud and the Government clamping down so that Benefits are only paid where they are needed but how they can say that someone with a debilitating and permanent disability doesn’t deserve any help at all is beyond me. I am f***ing furious!

So we’ve requested what they call a Mandatory Reconsideration before we get to an Appeal. The Advice Shop staff couldn’t believe the application had been turned down and neither can anyone who knows my daughter.

I’m still hoping the DWP will change their mind but even if they do, this is an awful way to treat a vulnerable teenager and her family and I want as many people as possible to hear about how this Tory Government is treating disabled people. To the DWP my daughter might be just another statistic but she’s a person who deserves a bit of respect and, because of her condition, needs a little extra help to live as normal a life as possible. Is that so much to ask?


Priorities

Posted on September 24th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The VW emissions test cheating is yet another example of big business believing it can get away with almost anything.

There are two things that leap out at us from the reporting of this scandal.

First, the VW bosses say they are very sorry. Think about that. What, exactly, are they sorry for? Did they volunteer the information that they had been cheating and thereby making millions of Euros for their Company and themselves? Is that what they are sorry for? No, what they are sorry for is being found out. That’s how big business operates these days.

The second thing is the obsession in the media with the financial impact on the motor industry, with most news reports telling us how much has been wiped off the share value of VW and other car manufacturers. There has been very little commentary on the health issues that the additional carbon emissions affect. Again, under the neo-liberal mindset that has become so ingrained in our society, money is deemed more important than people. Thankfully, some voices are now being raised about this aspect and perhaps the health and climate change impact of VW’s blatant money-grabbing fraud will soon gain a higher profile in our consciousness.


Changing Your Mind

Posted on September 21st, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour leader on a left wing agenda which included, as a prominent feature, his opposition to the renewal of Trident. Good for him, some would say. He’s a man of principle.

Except that, over the weekend, we have learned from members of his Shadow Cabinet that, in fact, the Labour Party remains committed to the renewal of Trident. Newspaper reports suggest some members of the Shadow Cabinet only accepted the jobs after Corbyn had assured them he would support Trident renewal.

Politics is a tough business and it often requires compromise but that turnaround in opinion is a pretty major one after such a short time.

As for Scottish Labour, both Johann Lamont and Kezia Dugdale have now declared that they would support a free vote on Scottish independence. It’s a welcome change of attitude but it’s also an easy one to announce since there’s not likely to be another IndieRef any time soon. As for their motives, one can’t help thinking it’s got a lot more to do with attempting to resurrect Labour after the disastrous consequences of campaigning arm in arm with the Tories in order to preserve the Union than it does with considering what might be best for the people of Scotland. It’s also at odds with Jeremy Corbyn’s staunchly Unionist stance although, given his turnaround on Trident, he may yet come to see Scots as equal to Irish Republicans and Palestinians in their quests for self-determination.

Of course, it often takes courage to change one’s mind when faced with difficult decisions but Labour change their minds so often it’s difficult to believe they are genuine in anything they say.


A Straw Defence

Posted on September 19th, 2015

By Wee Hamish

Imagine this. You have an argument with someone who gets aggressive and makes threats against you and your family. You have proof because someone was filming the incident. You go to the Police and the person you were arguing is charged but the Court lets them off because they claim that they were speaking off the cuff and didn’t really mean to carry out their threats.

Are you happy with that? I certainly wouldn’t be. I’d be pure raging.

But that’s how Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw explained away their promises to act on behalf of a fictitious Chinese Company in exchange for the equivalent of brown paper envelopes stuffed with cash. They didn’t really mean it, you see. Honestly, they wouldn’t have actually taken the money.

Yeah, right. Especially if they’d known they were being filmed, I suppose.

But they broke no rules, apparently. At least, that’s according to a panel of other MPs who blamed the media people who made the sting. You see, it is unethical to wave money in front of MPs and film them greedily promising to perform whatever tricks you ask them to do, but it’s not unethical for the greedy bastards to make promises to prostitute themselves for personal gain.

That’s right. A bunch of MPs found two of their chums not guilty of breaking rules they made up themselves, so everything’s OK.

I don’t know about anyone else but I’m sick of the rancid corruption at Westminster. It will never change. It doesn’t want to change and it doesn’t know how to change and the best thing we can do is break free of its corrupt influence as soon as possible.


Don't Forget the Real Issue

Posted on September 15th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

There have been some strong reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader. The BBC and ITV have been working hard to portray him as disorganised, clueless and without friends among what they describe as moderate Labour MPs. Those “moderates", by the way, are what many of us refer to as Red Tories.

Much of the speculation, though, has been about the impact his election will have on the move for Scottish independence. I’ve seen and received lots of comments on how he will win people back to Labour from the SNP and thus effectively kill off the pressure for another IndieRef. This is because his policies are, in many instances, the same as those of the SNP and there is therefore, according to this view, no need to pursue independence for Scotland since the UK will be returning to a more socially democratic political climate.

My response to this was first posted on Twitter in a couple of Tweets which have received a fair bit of response so I’ll expand on those comments briefly.

First of all, it is good that the SNP will have another anti-austerity, anti-Trident, pro-nationalisation ally at Westminster. There are, however, several things people must appreciate before they get too carried away.

First of all Jeremy Corbyn is not the prime Minister. He may never reach that office and certainly won’t even have a chance for standing for it until 2020. The Tories still have a majority in Parliament and, if the Red Tories who despise Corbyn’s politics decide to cross the floor or even simply abstain on Tory policies, Labour and the SNP have no chance of blocking or even influencing Tory legislation.

The second point is that Scottish Labour is still comprised mostly of Red Tories. Kezia Dugdale seems to have undergone something of an epiphany in her sudden conversion to supporting Corbyn but those of a cynical persuasion may suspect this conversion is little more than skin deep. There are major policy differences between what Corbyn wants and what most Scottish MSPs want. It will be interesting to see who wins in this inevitable struggle for position.

The third thing to remember is that Corbyn is an avowed Unionist. It’s a very odd stance for him to take seeing as he supports Irish Republican views on a united Ireland and he is all for a free Palestine. One can only conclude that either he has been indoctrinated with British imperialist views for so long that he cannot contemplate the final breakup of the Union or that he realises Scotland subsidises the rest of the UK to such an extent that RUK would be in even worse financial straits than it is now if Scotland were to be allowed to leave.

Any Scottish voter considering switching back to Labour needs to take these things into consideration before taking the decision but there is one other thing everyone needs to bear in mind and this one is the biggie.

The thing is, it makes no difference to the argument for Scottish independence what course Corbyn’s Labour Party pursues. Independence is not about policies. Yes, we detest the Tory philosophy and a majority of Scots support the bulk of the SNP’s decisions on social matters but those policies are not what independence is about. The whole point of independence is to have the right to decide what our policies will be rather than have the decisions of the Government of a different country imposed on us. And before any Proud Scots complain that the UK is one nation and Westminster provides our Government, I would point out that, as amply demonstrated at May’s General Election, Scottish votes do not count when the UK Government is elected. The Government is decided by the people of England. We have no choice but to go along with whatever policies that Government implements. Matters like Health and Education may be devolved but the overall strategy of how to run a country, the ideology of how Britain operates, is completely outwith our control. That’s what independence is about. Once we achieve it, we can argue among ourselves as to which Party will form our own Government but at least it will be our choice, not somebody else’s.

So let’s cheer Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to at least oppose the Tories but we must not fall into the trap of believing his election somehow fundamentally alters the democratic deficit. It doesn’t and it never will.


On Bended Knee

Posted on September 15th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The Tory media are pulling out all the stops in their attempts to demean and cast scorn on Jeremy Corbyn. It’s Project Fear all over again.

One of the stories occupying the Tory Press this morning is the news that Corbyn will bend the knee to the Queen and kiss her hand as he pledges loyalty in order to become a member of the Privy Council. This is, according to some headlines, just another example of his hypocrisy because he’s an avowed Republican and wants to abolish the monarchy yet, when push comes to shove, he grovels like everyone else.

What you learn if you read a little further is that failure to pledge loyalty to the Queen would result in the withholding of around £6 million of public funding for the Labour Party. Now, if that’s not a prime example of why the monarchy should be abolished, I’m not sure what is. The only way to receive handouts is to affirm your subservience to the monarch. You must effectively beg and grovel if you are to have any practical influence at Westminster. Far from revealing Corbyn’s hypocrisy, this shows us the insidious holds the monarchy has on our society. They are superior to us. We are mere subjects and must beg for scraps from the royal table. If we are especially good at promoting British Nationalism we might even be awarded a shiny medal and be permitted to put some letters after our name commemorating a time when Britain had an Empire and could lord it over much of the rest of the world.

Like the discredited Honours system, the ceremony of joining the Privy Council is designed to reinforce the elitist nature of British society and remind people of their place. While I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn is Prime Minister material and I cannot understand why a man who allegedly has sympathy for Irish Republicanism and a free Palestine nevertheless opposes Scottish independence, one can only sympathise with the sacrifice to his pride that bending the knee to an allegedly superior human being will cost him. This is BritNattery at its finest and it’s not a particularly edifying spectacle.


History Repeating Itself?

Posted on September 11th, 2015

By Blind Pew

I’ve just finished reading a book called “Zeppelin Nights" by Jerry White. It’s about London during the First World War and is a fascinating account of how the city and its people were affected by the conflict. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but I like History and I hadn’t come across a book covering this subject before.

It was quite interesting in its own right but what struck me most was how the ruling Government of the day and the media treated the ordinary people of London. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to today’s political climate.

First was the accounts of the Suffragettes. It seems their campaign wasn’t only about chaining themselves to railings, throwing eggs or hurling themselves under race horses. Some of the more extremist members allegedly turned to bomb making and even threatened to poison London’s water supply.

What was most interesting, though, was the public reaction to the Suffragette movement, even those who confined themselves to more peaceful demonstrations. Remember, what these women wanted was to be able to vote and have equal rights to men. That’s something we take as normal these days but a hundred years ago it was very different. Egged on by a hostile media, many members of the public adopted a very aggressive stance towards any woman who was even suspected of having Suffragette sympathies. Some women were verbally abused, some were physically assaulted, some were robbed and some thrown into any convenient stretch of water.

Their crime, of course, was to threaten the status quo. The media of the day were enlisted to demonise them and the public went along with it, with mobs happy to threaten any woman who betrayed Suffragette sympathies.

Does that sound familiar at all? A small minority group seeking powers of self-determination and equality being demonised and threatened. Hmm.

Then there was the response to foreigners. Naturally, Germans and Austrians were targets for the media and the mobs, even if they had lived in London for years and had married British men or women. What happened to many of these people was pretty awful but, in a way, perhaps understandable given the prevailing political views of the time. However, Belgian refugees who flocked to London when their country was invaded weren’t treated all that much better. After an initial response of friendly support, many of them suffered verbal abuse and they were regarded very much as second class citizens. British-born Jews suffered similar abuse if they did not join the British armed forces. This was despite the fact that many of them had fled from Russia to escape persecution and were naturally reluctant to join a war in which Britain had allied itself to Russia. I suppose it could be said that at least the UK let them in, in stark contrast to the current response to a refugee crisis but the way some of these people were treated would probably have brought UKIP into disrepute.

The third aspect which sounded familiar was the reaction of the Government in clamping down on the working classes. Pubs were closed or had restrictions imposed on opening times, sporting events were cancelled and arrests made on the flimsiest of suspicions. One man with a German-sounding name was even arrested for talking to a pigeon, apparently on the grounds that this meant he must be a spy.

The worst thing was that the Government refused to issue warnings of air raids because they were afraid that the working classes might stop working and the war effort might be disrupted if munitions factories stopped production as a result of a false alarm. The politicians also believed there would be panic and rioting in the streets if they issued an early warning. They only changed their minds in 1918, the very last year of the war when there were indeed panicking mobs who were desperate to find shelter when the bombs started falling, resulting in several people being trampled to death.

In other words, the Government regarded the ordinary people as almost as much of a threat as the German bombers and did everything they could to clamp down on any subversive behaviour, using the war as an excuse to introduce ever more draconian measures designed to keep the people in their place.

It’s always difficult to compare the past with modern life because values and customs were different back then. However, the most depressing thing about reading about these things is that the State continues to employ the same tactics against anyone perceived as a threat and that many individuals are persuaded to go along with the demonisation. Some things, it seems, never change.


Compassionate Cameron

Posted on September 8th, 2015

By Wee Hamish

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when David Cameron had the cheek to spout about Britain’s extraordinary compassion in agreeing to take 4,000 refugees a year for the next five years. Does he think we’re so stupid we can’t count? Twenty thousand sounds like a lot but when you break it down, he’s agreeing to accept an average of 11 people a day for the next five years, while Germany took in 18,000 over the past weekend.

And it gets worse. Honestly, it does. The refugees Britain will take are not those currently walking across Europe in search of safety but are those who are still in camps in and around Syria. What Cameron failed to mention is how these people are supposed to reach the UK and the minor detail that these are the very people who might not be alive in five years’ time, especially if he gets his way and starts bombing them in order to persuade them to stay where they are. Honestly, the guy’s a pure mental bampot.

And it gets even worse than that. Another thing he forgot to mention but was slipped out in a later comment by one of his cronies in the House of Lords is that any children who come to the UK as refugees will be expelled as soon as they reach the age of 18. What? Seriously? You bet!

That’s Britain’s interpretation of extraordinary compassion. Excuse me while I boak.

And then the Tories wonder why people are radicalised and hate the UK. Surely it isn’t all that difficult to understand, you muppets! Take a look in the mirror and see what you are saying and doing.

To borrow from what Rab Bruce’s Spider said yesterday, we’ve all been told for so long that greed and self-interest are the normal ways to behave that some people aren’t capable of seeing just how selfish and inhumane their views are. When you have a former Archbishop of Canterbury demanding all out war you really need to wonder what British Values really are. OK, the guys who were killed by drones last month might have been planning terrorist attacks on the UK but they were 2,500 miles away, for God’s sake! If you can gather enough intelligence (although intelligence isn’t exactly much in evidence among our ruling snobs) surely to God you can keep track on them and arrest them when they try to enter the UK? Whatever the drone strike was, it wasn’t self-defence.

I think David Cameron has probably watched Gladiator too often and thought that Commodus guy was so cool he adopted him as his role model. Or maybe George Orwell was right and just got his date wrong when he wrote 1984.

The worst thing about all this is that a lot of people are cheering on the Tories as if there’s nothing wrong with what they are doing. The sooner Scotland gets away from this nightmare of a United Kingdom, the better.


A Loaded Question

Posted on September 7th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

“Would you let a refugee family stay in your house?"

It’s a question usually asked by Right Wing journalists or politicians and what is a prominent person like Nicola Sturgeon supposed to say in response? If you’ve been calling for the UK Government to show a bit of compassion you can hardly turn round and say that providing shelter for refugees should be somebody else’s problem.

The thing is, the sort of person who asks that question is almost certainly the sort of person who wouldn’t cross the road to help someone in trouble. The last thing they’d do is allow any stranger, let alone a refugee, into their home. The question is a ploy to put pressure on vocal supporters of Government action to help out in a humanitarian crisis. That’s because Britain is happy to provide aid to poor foreigners as long as they stay well away from our shores. Once they get here they become a threat to our way of life and any politician who agrees that they would be prepared to provide shelter for refugees in their own home attracts unspoken but very definite suspicion. That’s because neo-liberalism has been the dominant economic theory for so long that too many people have grown up believing that being greedy and acting out of pure self-interest are the normal ways to behave. Anyone who acts charitably with no desire for reward is, in neo-liberal eyes, not normal. You can just imagine readers of The Daily Mail tut-tutting when they read about Nicola Sturgeon welcoming foreigners into her own home. Has she no standards?

But the question is not only derogatory, it’s also silly because, even if you do have enough spare rooms in your house to provide accommodation for a family of refugees, that’s a short term view of how these people should be helped. They need proper accommodation of their own, they need support and they need opportunities to find employment until such time as it may be safe for them to return home.

What they might return home to is anyone’s guess but it seems David Cameron and his buddies are determined to ensure that there is very little left standing in Syria because they seem to have decided that the best way to bring peace to the region is to drop more bombs on it. That’s worked pretty well so far, hasn’t it? the UK, along with other western countries, has been bombing Syria for the past eleven months and it doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect. Only warmongering Britain would think more bombs are the answer to this humanitarian disaster.

It’s a sad country we live in when our response to appeals for help is a grudging acceptance of a relatively small number of refugees and a statement of intent to bomb their country to encourage them to stay there. If those actions are indicative of these British Values we keep hearing about, it’s no wonder so many of us feel ashamed to be British.


The Wrong Answer

Posted on September 5th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

David Cameron says the real solution to the refugee crisis is to end the war they are fleeing from. OK, that is perfectly sensible but he seems not to have considered how this might be achieved. So far, Britain’s contribution to peace-making has been to bomb ISIS which hasn’t exactly proved successful, just as many critics, including this blog site, predicted.

The problem is that the war in Syria is extremely complicated and the original sentiment of wanting President Assad ousted has been put to one side because the only viable alternative at the moment appears to be ISIS.

It’s not as simple as that, of course, since other parties, such as the Kurds and Turkey aren’t all that interested in bringing peace to the area. The Kurds want their own, independent State and Turkey is quite happy to see its neighbour Syria in turmoil, especially as it can earn a lot of money from allowing the transit of arms and oil to and from Syria.

By general consensus, though, ISIS is the biggest problem and it’s largely a problem of the West’s making. This brutal regime arose to fill the power vacuum created by the US / UK invasion of Iraq. It has increased its power and the extent of territory under its control because those opposing it lack either the military power or the political will to destroy it. Not that it’s all that easy to destroy any large group of people, of course. However, the only way the US and UK can ever hope to defeat ISIS is through a large scale land war by sending in thousands of troops. That simply isn’t going to happen because the general public won’t stand for it unless the Governments create some excuse which is more plausible than the infamous WMD dossier Tony Blair and his cronies created. In any event, large scale wars in places like Vietnam and Afghanistan haven’t exactly turned out well in the past and the previous Iraqi conflict is what created this problem in the first place.

So what is the solution? Quite frankly, there probably isn’t one. The Middle East has been in turmoil ever since the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 when Britain and France drew lines on a map and then installed pro-Western Governments to rule the new States they had created in complete defiance of actual tribal and ethnic geography.

That’s not to say all the blame lies with the West. Countries like Saudi Arabia have taken no refugees from Syria at all because they are too busy bombing Yemen and stoking the civil war in that country. Israel is too intent on destroying the Palestinian proto-State in Gaza by slow strangulation and would never aid Arab refugees anyway, while Egypt’s military dictatorship has more than enough internal problems to bother itself with other countries’ wars.

But Europe isn’t exactly covering itself in glory here. Turkey, for all its aggressiveness towards Kurds and others, has taken two million refugees while tiny Lebanon has taken over 1.5 million, an astonishing number for a country with a population of only around 4 million. Even Germany’s acceptance of tens of thousands of refugees pales into insignificance when compared to the response of these countries. Yet the European nations are happy to let the likes of Lebanon handle enormous numbers of refugees and only pay attention when their own borders become involved.

As for the UK, Cameron’s grudging agreement to accept a few more refugees probably won’t come to much. Britain, as usual, will do the minimum amount possible to help in order to assuage public outrage but will soon do its best to manufacture some other news event so as to distract from this issue and will quietly close the door on admitting too many refugees. It’s a stark contrast to the situation eighty years ago when Jewish refugees flocked here in their efforts to escape the Nazis who, if you recall, came to power when they exploited a political vacuum created by the harsh impositions of a vengeful France and Britain in the Treaty of Versailles. Plus ça change, as the French say.

As for the current situation, Cameron may be right in his view but there is no easy way of achieving peace in Syria and he knows it. His comments were merely a rhetorical device to avoid helping out because accepting what he views as migrants would go against his immigration stance and will upset the UKIP-leaning members of his own Party. As usual for a man with no moral compass whatsoever, he has completely failed to understand that there are times when you need to put politics aside and do the right thing from a humanitarian standpoint.

But it’s easy to criticise so let’s finish this post by trying to make some sort of positive suggestion that might help out. There may well be reasons why this wouldn’t work but it occurs to me that there are hundreds of caravan and camping sites all across the UK. As the summer holiday season draws to a close, many of these will be shutting down for the winter or will be largely empty. Why not allow refugees to occupy static caravans that would otherwise be empty? The Government could pay for the occupation over the next few months until they can sort out more permanent accommodation. Living in a caravan over the British winter may not be ideal but this would solve the immediate problem of where to house these people and would be infinitely better than the ordeals they have already faced.

Whatever we do, though, it needs to be a lot more than we’ve done so far.


Everyone's a Critic

Posted on September 3rd, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

I’ve seen and received a fair bit of feedback from pro-Union Scots over the past couple of weeks. Their remarks fall into three broad categories, all of them aimed at the SNP. I’m more interested in the cause of Scottish independence than in defending the SNP but the comments are worth responding to, so here goes.

What have these people said? First of all, there’s the oft-repeated claim that the SNP can do no wrong in the eyes of brainwashed CyberNats. Then there are some who believe the SNP should stop banging on about independence and get back to governing the country while, thirdly, there was one quite bizarre claim that the SNP had destroyed the Scottish NHS, Scottish Police and the Scottish Education system.

So let’s take them one at a time and disprove the first claim in this article. No political Party is exempt from criticism. The problem for Unionists is that they have hurled so much abuse and misguided criticism at the SNP that real issues are often lost in the maelstrom of SNP bashing. I’ll come to the specific issues mentioned earlier, along with a few others but none of us should confuse the two entirely separate issues of Scottish Government policy on specific matters and the much wider and fundamental issue of Scottish independence. It is perfectly possible to support the SNP on the latter while criticising them on the former. What we should not forget, though, is that most of the areas where the Scottish Government can be criticised are fairly minor when set against the much wider ideological gulf between what the people of Scotland voted for in the General Election in May and the Westminster Government they ended up with.

As for banging on about independence, it’s perfectly true that many Yes supporters keep raising the issue of a second referendum. This is a direct result of the broken promises on Devo Max and the cruel and divisive policies emanating from Westminster. Again, though, that confuses policy issues with democratic ones. The SNP themselves have made very few comments on independence except in response to the media who are obsessed by the possibility of the Union breaking up. But despite the claims of them having taken their eyes off the ball, the SNP’s Government has, in fact, continued to operate at a fairly competent level. This is demonstrated by improvement to infrastructure, with the new Queensferry crossing and Borders railway under construction and upgrading of the A9 to take place. There is a new hospital in Glasgow, a major development in itself and the teething problems there were quickly addressed. A shortage of teachers in the North East is also being tackled although there is still a long way to go. On environment issues, the 5p levy on carrier bags has had a major impact on the environment and the proposed minimum pricing for alcohol would have had a similar health impact to the smoking ban had the powerful Whisky industry not challenged it in order to preserve their profits. There have also been numerous announcements on spending plans to support various industries, apprentice schemes and, of course, to offset the impact of the Tory austerity cuts to Social Security.

Of course, it’s not all good news, so let’s get to the criticism. It must be said, though, that the accusation that areas of public life in Scotland have been destroyed are completely over the top.

Many public bodies are very large organisations and all such organisations will have issues and problems but we should not forget that the Government is not in direct control of day to day operational matters except in very rare instances where they need to intervene. They are, though, responsible for how those public bodies are run and the people who manage those bodies must report to the Scottish Government who have ultimate responsibility for ensuring they operate properly.

Let’s be clear about the NHS. There is no crisis, despite what the BBC keep telling us. Yes, there are issues, yes there are mistakes, but there is no systemic problem although everyone involved in healthcare is constantly under pressure to operate at peak efficiency. However, compared to Health Services in other parts of the UK, NHS Scotland is doing pretty well.

As for Education, the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence was a good idea which was poorly implemented, being rushed in with too little time. The exams should have been delayed for at least another year and teachers given much more guidance on the content. That’s a valid criticism but to highlight one instance of a Maths exam where the pass rate was lowered because the exam was too difficult was a silly argument. That sort of adjustment is often implemented as is only fair to the students. What the Scottish Government need to do is to liaise closely with the SQA and ensure that next year’s exams are more appropriate and teachers have a better idea of what is expected from their pupils. The Government should lead and the SQA should implement; that’s how it’s supposed to work.

While on Education, I must say I also have reservations about the recently announced testing of Primary school pupils. Most teachers dislike them as well because they end up teaching pupils to meet targets rather than teaching them to develop an interest in learning. I do hope the Scottish Government rethinks that particular plan.

What we shouldn’t forget is that a recent EU study found that Scotland had the best educated workforce of any EU country. For that to be true, our Education system can’t be as bad as the pro-Union Parties keep claiming.

This just goes to show that it is impossible to please everyone when making laws. The Named Person policy is another which has come in for severe criticism and legal challenge although it is noticeable that people who are involved in childcare, health and education are generaly in favour of the legislation while having reservations about the practicalities of implementation. If any criticism can be levied against the Scottish Government on this policy it is that they have not been clear enough about what it entails, what the purpose and perceived benefits are and how they will ensure sufficient resources to make it work.

And now the big one. The Police is where the Scottish Government have made their greatest mistakes. They should have considered the issue of VAT before proceeding with the amalgamation of regional forces into a national one. It must be said that Westminster’s refusal to budge on this is a politically-motivated one designed to embarrass the SNP but the SNP really should have looked into this more closely before going ahead.

As for the much publicised mistakes such as the M9 crash, the arming of Police and Stop and Search, it remains to be seen whether these resulted from a systemic problem or from poor judgement by senior Police officers who set the culture. What is clear, though, is that the Scottish Government should have been much more pro-active in responding to these issues and they have been far too quiet when they needed to step in and tell the public they were getting involved. Their gravest blunder seems to be in having appointed Sir Stephen House to head up the new Police Scotland and in not reacting more quickly when some of his more controversial tactics became known. Let’s hope they get things sorted sooner rather than later.

It’s not just on these issues that the Scottish Government can be criticised. Their much vaunted Land Reform Bill seems to have been watered down quite drastically and falls far short of what many of their supporters have been calling for. Perhaps this is a mark of their cautious, gradualist approach and is just the first step in nibbling away at the edges of the imbalanced land ownership in Scotland. We will have to wait and see but I expect them to receive a lot more criticism on this issue.

So there you have it. As with most Governments, it’s a mixture of good and not so good. What Scotland really need is a decent Opposition Party. Simply to stand up and whine that the SNP are bad is not real Opposition. Someone in the union camp needs to come up with some viable alternative policies. At the moment, all of them seem quite bereft of ideas. Nicola Sturgeon offered to work with them on specific issues if they came up with some proposals. So far, all we’ve had is a litany of complaints. OK, you might think the SNP are bad but what would you do instead? Too often the answer is a quick change of subject.

Finally, what the majority of Unionists don’t seem to understand is that, for all their faults, the SNP are a pretty competent Government who try to do what they said they would do. Above all, though, they represent the best chance for making Scotland an independent country. That’s what many people want and the majority of those people will vote for the SNP until that goal is obtained. After that, it will be back to voting for a Parliament where many different voices can be heard and where, above all, the Government will truly be answerable to the people because, for the first time in over three hundred years, the Scottish electorate will be able to decide which political Party will form a truly autonomous Government for the country.


Please Stop!

Posted on September 1st, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Before we get back into the old routine of Scottish politics after the holiday break, there’s something that’s been bugging me for a while and I’d like to make an appeal for a more reasoned approach to economic news.

We all know Unionists are obsessed by oil but their sense of gloating over the collapse in the oil price and the resultant job losses is really quite appalling. Oil companies are in the business of making huge profits and most of the layoffs are to do with preserving those profits. Investment in the North Sea continues albeit with staff numbers having been cut. What is disturbing is the seeming glee with which Proud Scots greet news of redundancies because they believe it confirms their view that Scotland would not be able to cope as an independent country when the oil price falls. It’s quite a bizarre claim seeing as the jobs are being lost despite what we were assured were the broad shoulders of the UK.

However, Indie supporters cannot be exempted from criticism. Several pro-Union newspapers have announced redundancies and Asda recently announced their worst results in fifty years. While it can be said that these organisations brought this on themselves by their attitude during the Indieref, it really is no cause for celebration that people have lost their jobs as a result of declining sales. The best approach we can take here is a grim satisfaction that the Better Together promises of job security being assured by a No vote were, as so many of their claims have proved to be, complete nonsense. What we should not do is take delight in fellow citizens losing their jobs. That is far too serious an issue for anyone to gloat over.

So please, whichever side of the argument you are on, don’t forget that we should all have the best interests of Scotland at heart and we should all want to see our economy do as well as it can under the constraints imposed by Westminster. This is not a playground argument with petty point scoring as its objective. This is the country we all live in.


How Interesting

Posted on August 26th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s been a while since we looked at the European Central Bank’s table of long term interest rates. Pretty boring stuff for most of us, but one thing worth remembering is highlighted by the latest update to this information which can be viewed at:-

https://www.ecb.europa.eu/stats/money/long/html/index.en.html

Take a look at the UK’s interest rates over the past year or so. These are the rates at which the UK Government could issue long term Bonds, the rate indicating how much investors would receive for their ten year investment. You’ll see that the rate varies pretty much every month and the range for the UK has been as low as 1.21% and as high as 2.31%. That’s a swing of 1.1%.

Now cast your mind back to the IndieRef and remember how we were assured that, because of the black hole in Scotland’s economy (which, of course, bears no resemblance to the efficiently managed deficit of the UK) Scotland could be obliged to pay as much as an extra 0.5% for its borrowing on the international money market and that this would result in the cost of our mortgages increasing. Now, if that claim were true, don’t you think the cost of UK mortgages would have varied over the past fifteen months in line with the changes of over 1% to the UK’s long term interest rates? That seems logical but, as you will be well aware, no such thing has happened. This is because, although most Banks do obtain some of their funding via the money markets, the rates on domestic borrowing are determined by reference to the Bank of England’s Base Rate which hasn’t altered for several years. That’s because the Bank of England takes into account a range of economic factors such as unemployment figures and inflation rates when deciding whether to adjust Base Rate.

So, while it is possible that mortgages in an independent Scotland might become more expensive, this would be in response to the base Rate fixed by Scotland’s Central Bank which would be determined by a number of economic factors, not solely by the rate at which the Scottish Government could borrow.

Please keep this in mind the next time some Unionist commentator or politician insists that Scottish mortgages or credit cards would be more expensive solely as a result of long term rates on the international money markets. Like so many other Better Together claims, that was an outright lie and the ECB has provided the proof of that.


The Real Message

Posted on August 19th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, with the media doing their best to create news stories out of nothing very much. Kezia’s inevitable election to leader of Labour’s Scottish branch office has been much hyped but really means it’s business as usual for the “SNP Bad" clan. It’s a nuisance for Yessers because it means we can no longer refer to her as Deputy Dugdale and will need to come up with some other mocking soubriquet.

As for the news that the DWP have been lying to the public in one of their leaflets which extolled the virtues of Benefits Sanctions, this seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, perhaps because a Government Department deliberately lying to people is now regarded as standard practice and therefore unworthy of comment.

There were, though, two stories which are revealing because of how they show the British State operating.

First there was Michelle Mone’s elevation to Business Start Up Tsar and perhaps to the House of Lords. Rev Stuart Campbell did a fine job of examining her business career on Wings Over Scotland so there’s no need to go into that here. Suffice to say that, whatever her qualifications for this new role, running a profitable business and providing hundreds of UK jobs don’t seem to be among them.

Then there’s the ongoing Jeremy Corbyn saga. It is fantastic that, at last, someone is standing up and decrying the neo-Liberal agenda and the rightward drift of the Red Tories. The UK needs a Labour Party who will actually act in opposition rather than abstain on every Tory measure. However, even if Jeremy Corbyn becomes the next Labour leader, it isn’t going to help the case for Scottish independence. For one thing, Corbyn is a Unionist and will resist any moves for Scotland to leave the Union. For another, his election may well split the Labour Party in two, thus reducing the impact his policies could have when half his MPs either set up a new Party or bite the bullet and cross the floor to become Blue Tories.

Whether he will win remains in doubt because the Establishment are going all out to stop him, adopting exactly the same tactics as were employed against the Yes campaign during the IndieRef. Corbyn and his followers haven’t actually been called Nazis yet but he’s been accused of anti-Semitism and his followers are, naturally, vile online abusive trolls, while his policies are extreme and his economics laughable. It all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? In fact, his policies are pretty much in line with what was the norm forty years ago and his economic theories are based on those of some very eminent economists.

However, the really interesting thing about these two stories is that they demonstrate a very simple truth. Michelle Mone was vocal in her support of Better Together during the IndieRef and has been rewarded, thus confirming to wealthy individuals that the State will look after them if they say the right things. On the other hand, anyone who argues against the Establishment will, like the Yes campaign and Jeremy Corbyn, be mercilessly attacked. Whatever the eventual outcome of these events, that is the real message we are being given here.


Passion Play

Posted on August 1st, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Political commentator Alex Massie has been at it again. This time, he’s made the claim that support for the SNP is akin to religious zealotry, with voters virtually brainwashed into rejecting rational argument in favour of belief in a cult.

I don’t usually agree with Alex Massie on very much but, on this occasion, I think he is partly right while being mostly wrong.

Where he is right is that some aspects of human behaviour often resemble religious fervour. For example, the original TV series of star Trek became a cult programme, with devotees who still don pointy ears and dress up to attend Star Trek conventions. The thing is, though, that while some fans do this, many don’t. There are many who would be annoyed to miss a programme of their favourite series but who wouldn’t necessarily dress like a character from the show in order to display their devotion.

Another example of this trait of quasi-religious behaviour is football. Fans of most teams can display a devotion which denies reality. They observe rituals, sing their own songs, almost worship their players. This does not prevent them criticising individual players whose performances do not match expectations and it does not prevent some fans voting with their feet when overall team performance dips. Again, some fans take their support to seemingly extraordinary lengths. While most will attend home matches, diehard fans go to every game, home or away. Many wear the tops of their team and some will have tattoos emblazoned on their skin to proclaim their love of the club. In many respects, this approaches religious zeal because, no matter how many times their favourite team is thrashed by its nearest and most bitter rivals, very few fans will change their allegiance and begin following the other team.

Then there is the cult of the Celebrity. This is perhaps not quite as strong as the attachment to a football team but some fans do go to extraordinary lengths to meet their idols. I use that word to demonstrate the potential comparison with religious zeal although it must be admitted that, unlike football fans, many who idolise Celebrities grow out of their fascination or are jerked out of it by some scandal involving their chosen idol.

There is, though, one strain of celebrity cult which is very prevalent in Britain and which Alex Massie conveniently overlooks. That is the idolisation of the Royal family whose cult status is reinforced by the media at every opportunity and which retains a powerful hold on the minds of many of the Queen’s subjects. Thousands of people will turn out in all weathers to wave flags and sing, “God Save the Queen" no matter how many rational arguments people of a Republican sentiment can put forward to demonstrate that such devotion is irrational.

It appears, then, that needing something to believe in is part of the human condition. Many people seem to need that sense of shared belief. Even Political Parties are not exempt from this but, contrary to what Alex Massie would have us think, the SNP do not have a monopoly on this. You only need to look at the Scottish Labour Party for evidence that some people remain devoted to their chosen Party despite all the evidence that the Party itself long ago abandoned its principles and the people it was founded to represent. If that’s not irrational, I’m not sure what is.

It must be admitted that the same trait is less evident in people who vote Tory, perhaps because the only ideology they have is the perpetuation of a social and economic system which favours their own individual success. This isn’t so much quasi-religious as simple selfishness.

But, to return to Alex Massie’s main claim, can support for the SNP be viewed as a cult? Well, there’s no doubt that, given the breadth of support the Party currently enjoys, some of its members will display all the signs of being cult followers but, as with football fans, the extreme believers will be a minority of those who vote for the Party.

Where Alex Massie is very wide of the mark, though, is in his mistake, so common among Unionists, of confusing the SNP with the wider Yes movement. Because, at a fundamental level, it is Scotland that is the cause people believe in. The SNP are the means through which many Scots see the chance to obtain independence but it is Scotland, not the SNP which is the focus of their passion. And that is an important word because it’s not religious zeal, it’s passion which drives the Yes movement. Religious people may be passionate in their beliefs but passionate believers in a cause are not necessarily religious fanatics.

Some people believe in Scottish independence from a simple gut reaction but, for many, it is not an irrational belief, it is something we believe in because we have examined the arguments and decided that the democratic deficit trumps any other arguments. This is something that the neo-liberal mindset cannot understand. It is alien to their way of thinking, which is why they attempt to demonise the SNP who are, in their eyes, the manifestation of what they perceive as irrational belief. They push their economic predictions at every opportunity and assert that it is madness to go against their version of reality, failing to understand that, for many Scots, the idea of governing ourselves is a greater attraction than following neo-liberal ideals which, ironically, are themselves in danger of becoming minority cult ideas as a growing consensus of economists is arguing that the ideology is fundamentally flawed.

The fact is that Scots have not been brainwashed into believing in the cause of Scottish independence. We have instead woken up and shaken off the insidious brainwashing that once made us believe the great British myth. We have reaped the harvest of industrial decline and exploitation and we’ve had enough. We no longer wish to be governed by a rich elite elected by the voters of England. We want to govern ourselves and make our own place in the world.

To quote Alex Massie’s own words back at him, his arguments are both meretricious and tendentious. But, while his intended audience may be impressed by big words, the people of Scotland have learned that they are more impressed by big ideas. They have embraced the goal of independence with a passion, an emotion which is largely alien to the neo-liberal mindset and that’s why, eventually, Scotland will become an independent country. Not because we slavishly worship the SNP but because we believe in ourselves.


Nothing To See Here

Posted on July 30th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

Do you remember all the howls of protest from Scottish Labour and their media buddies about the alleged crisis in the Scottish NHS because A&E waiting times were too high? That resulted in the Scottish Government agreeing to publish weekly figures on A&E performance in relation to the target of 95% of patients being seen and dealt with within four hours.

And do you remember how Scottish Labour and their media buddies persisted in wailing about the inadequacy of the NHS under the SNP’s governance because the 95% target wasn’t being hit week after week? This was despite the actual performance figures being well in excess of anything Scottish Labour achieved while they were in power.

You must remember how, just a week ago, Shona Robison, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing & Sport, was widely condemned for claiming that nearly all Health Boards in Scotland had achieved above or around the target when, in fact, some had missed it by fractions of a percentage point. The media went to town on this, creating a storm in a teacup.

But guess what? One week later the media are absolutely silent on the weekly statistics. I’ll caveat that by saying I refuse to watch Reporting Scotland and I don’t follow BBC News on Twitter so maybe they did mention the latest figures but STV certainly didn’t, and neither have any other media outlets at the time of writing this blog.

This made me suspicious, so I posted a comment on Twitter, suggesting that there must have been an improvement in the performance and, lo and behold, I was very quickly informed that the target had been achieved, with an overall performance of 95.2%.

Now, whatever you might think of a target-driven NHS, you would be entitled to think that the first ever week in which the target, which is an extremely challenging one even if it has been reduced from the virtually impossible to achieve 98% that the Scottish Government originally set, would be newsworthy from a media which has obsessed over the failures to hit the 95% figure over the past months.

OK, one week might be a blip and maintaining this level will not be easy but the past week was a milestone of sorts and, if nothing else, the NHS staff who worked so hard to treat all those patients deserve some recognition. That recognition has been denied them by the media and I’m sure I don’t need to spell out my suspicions as to why.

I have no objections to the Scottish Government being challenged when there are real issues. Let’s face it, there are several areas where they can come in for some valid criticism but the NHS A&E waiting times really isn’t one of them and, given the fuss made when the target for A&E treatment has been missed, an unbiased media should at least mention the success. The fact that this has gone unremarked is merely another confirmation that the Scottish media are only really interested in a story if it falls into the #SNPBad category. Is it any wonder many of us choose to seek out alternative sources of news?


Dear Westminster,

Posted on July 27th, 2015

By Wee Hamish

Dear Westminster Establishment & UK Media,

I am addressing this Open Letter to you jointly because I am very worried about the state of your mental wellbeing.

As you know, there was a Referendum on Scottish independence last year. The result was fairly close but still clear enough. A majority of Scots prefer living under your benign governance rather than standing on their own feet and governing themselves. I was disappointed with the result, it is true. In fact, I was bloody furious that so many of my fellow countrymen and women didn’t have the guts to break free from the last vestiges of the Empire but that is democracy and I have accepted the result.

So, too, has the Scottish National Party. It may have escaped your notice but, although there are some fanatics among SNP supporters who keep calling for a second IndieRef, Nicola Sturgeon knows that to call another one too soon and to risk losing a second time would be stupid. She has made that plain enough on many occasions. That’s not the same as saying that the SNP or the wider Yes movement have given up on eventual Scottish independence, it’s just that we know now is not the time for the vote to be tested again. Unfortunately, we need to wait for the older generation, who are too scared of change to vote for anything other than the Britain which exists largely in their fond memories, to pass away. The younger generation, with access to alternative media sources, are wise to your tricks and will eventually alter the demographics of the Independence vote. That will take time and, in the meantime, we will work within the constraints of your rules.

In fact, we are doing everything you asked of us during the IndieRef campaign. We have elected pro-Scottish MPs to represent us within the archaic and ludicrous House of Commons. We are showing how an Opposition Party should behave and are raising political awareness where we can, even given the extreme bias you show in what you release to the wider public through your news channels.

So, we’ve done what you asked. We voted No, we have said we will abide by the result of the IndieRef, we’ve joined in the farce that is your UK Parliament and we’ve said there will not be a second IndieRef until a majority of the people of Scotland demand it. I honestly can’t think of what more we could have done except to elect 56 Labour stooges to the house of Commons again.

So, why, I must ask, are you so obsessed with the question of a second IndieRef? Every time an SNP MP goes on the TV or radio, it seems they are asked the question. You can’t possibly think they have changed their minds about wanting Scottish independence but how many times do you need to be told that the SNP have no plans for it at the moment?

Are you stupid? Ok, don’t answer that, I think the people of Scotland know the answer. But this obsession of yours is unhealthy. It reveals a very real fear lurking in the recesses of your paltry little imaginations. What is it you are afraid of? Is it losing Scotland’s subsidy of your lifestyle? Is it losing the pride and prestige that would be linked to the secession of one of the oldest parts of your Empire? Do you fear being laughed at in the international community? I hope not because, in case you hadn’t noticed, most of them are laughing at you anyway.

Or is your fixation with IndieRef 2 that you are pretty sure you will lose it? Is it because you know you’ve more or less run out of scare stories, that everything you told us has turned out to be a lie and that pretty much everything the Yes campaign said would happen has turned out to be true? Is that it?

I honestly don’t know the answer to what is troubling you but it could be the cumulative effect of all of these things, building into a storm cloud of terror which means you retain this almost panicked obsession.

So here’s a little tip for you. We love it when you keep asking about it. Every time one of your pet media stooges asks the question, we know we’ve got you rattled. WE can see the fear in your eyes and hear it in your strident voices. And we can imagine the sheer horror and petrifying terror when, one day, out of the blue, Nicola Sturgeon decides the time has come and the polls are in our favour. We’re looking forward to that day and watching you fill your breeks in terror when you realise the game is up.

You really ought to seek expert help for your condition because, at this rate, you are going to have a breakdown. Or should that be a break up?


Sleepless Nights

Posted on July 23rd, 2015

By Lexie

Firstly, I should introduce myself. I am a young mother. I am married, we have a mortgage on as nice a house as we could afford (£135,000) in a good area. We’re fairly average, I would say. We’ve recently had our second baby – so forgive me if my spelling isn’t spot on, I’ve had a few sleepless nights! Everything is going fine, but when she was about a week old, the budget came out. And suddenly her future is looking a lot less rosy.

Despite both of us being in reasonably secure jobs, working hard, saving hard, we’re going to find ourselves fairly soon in difficult financial straits. This doesn’t sit well with either of us. We don’t consider that we have an extravagant lifestyle – what new parent has the time to go out for fancy dinners or to the cinema? Let alone the money. We’ve been on a permanent austerity drive since before we were married (at least 5 years). Every month my husband works out exactly how much is needed for bills, petrol, the mortgage, savings… we budget a reasonably modest £200 a month for food. We make packed lunches to take to work.

We have two cars, but considering we work at different ends of the town, we need them. They are both about twelve years old and neither of us has ever had a new car. We don’t think we will ever have a new car as we don’t want to get into debt to finance it. Ironically, for people who don’t even use our single credit card unless we have the cash ready to pay it off, we are going to be driven into personal debt to pay off the country’s deficit. And we’re not alone.

I am currently in a minimum wage job, working in a care home. The fact that people get paid so little to work such long hours while looking after the country’s elderly and frail is bad enough as it is – but that’s a different article! When Mr Osborne announced that he was raising minimum wage and giving me a pay rise (something which my company has previously refused to do, for at least three years) I was quite relieved. I was on £6.50 per hour, 30 hours per week. The increase in the Minimum Wage to £7.20 gives me an extra £1092 per year, straight away. The increase in the personal allowance gives us £80 per year, between myself and my husband. My husband gets a 1% pay rise, because he’s not an MP, which gives us £226.

But then I realised it was a case of watching this hand, while the other does something totally different. Thankfully, our second child was born in the nick of time, it seems. Thank goodness we weren’t planning on having any more! If only the NHS would consider sterilising women under thirty when the women themselves decide their families are complete… but again, that’s a different article. I only mention it here to show how seriously we take our children. I am not one of those mothers that go about having eight or nine offspring out of reckless irresponsibility, only to then demand that the state support them all.

We aren’t affected by the family element (£500 per year) or the child element (£2500 per year) for 3 or more children being scrapped, as they only apply to new claims. But from April Tax Credits start reducing faster. Right now, they start reducing after you’ve earned £6420 per year, every pound above that knocks 41p off your annual award. This will change to start reducing after £3850, every pound above that knocking off 48p from the annual award.

That’s quite a major change. I haven’t seen a lot of talk about it, but it will drastically affect anyone working with a low enough income to get Tax Credits. Our joint income next April is going to be about £34,585, including the ‘bonuses’ from the budget. In our case the Tax Credit changes knock off £3205 for the year.

Budget bonuses = £1400.00

Budget kickers = -£3205

Total effect per year = -£1805

That’s £150 per month, or to put it another way, everything we manage to save each month – the £100 we put into our ISAs, the £50 we put into our children’s. All of it.

What the Tories have actually done is punish those who they claim they are helping – hard-working ordinary families. The changes effectively eliminate our saving power. We managed to tuck away a modest £150 per month into ISAs. This is in theory supposed to pay for upgrades to our house – like gas central heating (we currently have a single electric storage heater in the living room), or eventually an extension so that we can give both our children separate rooms. But in reality this usually covers us for emergencies, like the car handbrake snapping or the washing machine packing up. We were supposed to start saving up for a far-distant family holiday, but that’s right out the window as our finances are squeezed.

The only saving grace is that we have a year’s notice before the changes kick in. We will be prepared. Some of those affected weren’t so lucky.

I know that we are much better off than a lot of families. I know that some people have no other option but to turn to payday loans companies, their already maxed-out credit cards or even (that well-known source of steady income) excessive gambling, in a desperate attempt to make ends meet. We could always sell a car, or do some more overtime, and there is always that pay rise to £9 an hour that I was promised; in a few years. That, and four years of 1% pay rises my husband will get, will net us around £3421 per year. That means, by the end of this parliament, we will be £1616 per year better off. If inflation is zero, and our insurance, food, gas, electricity and mortgage don’t go up. If our cars last. If we can manage the hit until then.

This year, we will manage. But this time next year, it won’t be the baby causing the sleepless nights. Thank you, Mr Osborne.


Sunshine No More

Posted on July 22nd, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The UK Government have announced that subsidies for solar energy are to stop. As usual with the Tories, the details of precisely what is to stop and when are as yet unclear but it’s another step on their road to demolishing the burgeoning Renewable industry. You’d think there would be some sort of protest from the Scottish media but, in keeping true to form, BBC Scotland turned the news into an attack on the SNP.

Fergus Ewing MSP, the Energy Minister, was interviewed on Radio Scotland’s “Good Morning Scotland" programme and subjected to a series of increasingly bizarre and almost moronic questions in a bid to make him admit that the solar energy providers, and Renewables generally, should not receive subsidies. The interviewer must have repeated the word “subsidies" more than a dozen times just to make sure listeners understood that Renewables are costing them money. When fergus Ewing calmly pointed out that the nuclear industry receives far higher subsidies, this was brushed aside but it is an important point.

All Governments pay subsidies to certain industries. For example, our railways are still subsidised. That’s because they are important. The issue of whether the public and the Government are receiving value for money on railways is a separate issue but the point is that Governments choose which industries to subsidise in order to maintain them for the public good. The Tories have decided that nuclear power should receive subsidies but renewables should not. Their stated claim is down to the cost. However, as one industry analyst pointed out, the cost per household per year of subsidising solar energy is £3, while the cost per household per year of subsidising nuclear energy is £43, so this cost saving exercise seems to be aimed at the wrong area.

Undeterred by facts, the BBC interviewer then argued that it is unfair to subsidise the solar energy production because, as with other Renewable sources, the technology is still being developed and improved. His bizarre claim was that surely it would be better to stop subsidising these industries until they had reached a point where the technology was advanced enough to be implemented without subsidy. It’s as if he’d never considered that all new industries require investment for research and development. Yes, the Renewable sector is developing but it’s also generating a lot of electricity. The whole point of subsidising the industry is to allow it to grow, to improve the technology and to provide more and more energy until we cease to be so reliant on dirty sources of energy like nuclear and coal. What never seems to be considered by those who object to Wind Farms or Solar fields on aesthetic grounds is that, without these, they might be living next to a nuclear power station. They are never asked whether they’d prefer that. The Scottish Government’s aim is to increase Renewables in order to provide clean sources of energy.

If that sounds like a pipe dream, consider Denmark. Several times in recent months, Wind and Solar power has produced over 100% of Denmark’s electricity. In fact, they are now exporting power to the other Nordic countries on a regular basis.

So it is possible to develop your Renewable energy sources. All you need is the political will. And that’s the problem. The Tories, for whatever reason, don’t like Renewables and are plumping for hugely expensive nuclear power plants to fill the yawning gap being left by the closure of old coal and gas-powered electricity generating stations. This is an ideological choice, not a cost or efficiency one. Whatever their motives, it is Scotland that will feel the greatest impact, yet the Scottish Government was not consulted by Westminster on the Solar subsidy issue.

What a pity there was no way of avoiding this.


The Queen and I

Posted on July 20th, 2015

By Wee Wifie

So, the queen as a young girl has been caught on camera giving a Nazi salute! Once again, due to her high ranking in society, she has stolen a march on me. I grew up in a street of tenements and there must have been dozens of us using it, and the communal gardens, as our playground. We had no televisions and I doubt of any of us ever read a newspaper; our only source of news was on a visit to the cinema.

In those days we had two films to watch, one a B-rated which the adults rarely wanted to see but we wanted our money's worth; a comic strip and what we termed a 'boring' newsreel that had to be endured. Then there was Odeon's Saturday Morning Club when we followed the adventures of the cowboys and indians, cops and robbers, cute and extremely clever animals, as well as a comic strip. We were always left with a cliff-hanger, sometimes literally, when our heroes and heroines were caught in a perilous situation. Would they survive? We knew they would but pretended we didn't and all the way home we would re-enact our version of the final result. For the next week we would be cowboys and indians and mercilessly shoot each other down. You could die as an indian and rise again as a cowboy, depending on who you faced. All you had to remember were the all important words, 'Paleface speaks with forked tongue' or 'Hi-ho, Tonto' and you were back in the game. The same with cops and robbers; 'You're nicked', 'Hands up' or 'You dirty rotter'.

Then the cinema's newsreels took on a different aspect and there were columns of dark-clad Germans goose-stepping along, right arms outstretched and chanting in guttural tones. Hitler, Goering and Goebbels appeared. We knew they were 'bad men' and our army had to beat them. We had no conception of any atrocities, apart from the fact that they had invaded a country called Poland and we didn't want that to happen to Britain. It was inevitable, however, that we adopted the goose-step and a Nazi salute. It was the custom to place your left index finger along the top of your upper lip to simulate Hitler's moustache and chant 'Sieg Heil' and 'Achtung', the only German words we knew, much to the amusement of our watching parents. My brother, always one to take things to extremes, started using coal to mark a black moustache under his nose, leading him to his nickname of 'Fritz', the only German name we knew. This name stuck with him for the rest of his life. However, nobody ever accused any of us of being Nazi sympathisers. We were children, copying those we saw on our big screens. The phase passed and we moved on long before the full force of the Nazi atrocities came to light.

Whether or not the Queen's uncle was manipulating her is another matter. She was a child then, as I was, goose-stepping along behind my brother and pals. I wonder just how many others remember doing the same?


Greek Lesson

Posted on July 18th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

The big lesson from the Greek crisis is that the money men rule Europe and anyone who steps out of line will be crushed. After the wave of enthusiasm when the Syriza Government came to power, they have shown themselves incapable of standing up to the neo-liberal demands of the Germans.

Whether the Greek people will accept this capitulation remains to be seen. As things stand, they only seem to have two choices, neither of which will be easy. They can stick with the collapse of all their hopes and struggle on for a few years, watching their public services disappear or be privatised and controlled by EU financiers, or they can bite the bullet, quit the EU, declare themselves bankrupt and reintroduce the drachma.

The first choice provides short term stability with long term decline and potential disaster. The second provides short term chaos with the prospect of longer term recovery. The saddest thing is that, whichever way they go, it is the ordinary people, who did nothing to cause the current problems, who will suffer the most.

But what lessons can Scotland learn from this?

First, an independent Scotland must have its own currency. Leaving control of monetary policy with RUK would be unsustainable in the long run. As soon as the economies of the two countries begin to diverge (no matter in which direction) Scotland would suffer because the monetary decisions are made on political grounds, not economic ones. Just look at what the EU is doing to Greece for confirmation of that. A separate currency is essential if we are to avoid potential retribution from a neo-liberal RUK for daring to adopt a different approach.

As for the EU, it’s clear that smaller nations are better off if they stay out of the Euro. And before anyone starts insisting that Scotland would be forced to adopt the Euro, that rule only applies to new members of the EU and Scotland is already a member by virtue of being in the UK. Even if that wasn’t enough, Sweden, Poland and the Czech Republic have shown that it is perfectly possible to avoid adopting the Euro even while signing up to do so eventually. Given the way Germany has bullied Greece with the connivance of other Eurozone members, it’s hard to see any country willingly ditch their own currency and start using the Euro.

Scottish independence is a long way off but, when the time comes, we need to remember the Greek lesson.


Sieg Heil!

Posted on July 18th, 2015

By Rab Bruce’s Spider

From an early age, Britons are taught to revere the Royal Family, with the newspapers and TV reinforcing the message at every opportunity. We are subjected to fawning reports of even the most banal of events if it involves a member of the Royal family and these events are often orchestrated so as to divert the public’s collective mind away from other stories which may be damaging to the Establishment. While many people express a preference for a Republican State, the majority of Britons still feel this attachment to the Royals and will turn out in droves to wave Union Flags in order to demonstrate their loyalty and subservience.

While I am happy to include myself in the ranks of those who have no time for what is a relic of a bygone age, an exercise in pageantry and flummery and, above all, an incredible waste of taxpayers’ money, I can’t get too excited about the revelations in the news this morning that some members of the Royal family were admirers of the Nazis in the 1930s. In fact, I’m not at all sure that these count as revelations. They are certainly not relevant to today’s Britain.

While it is quite amusing to see the Establishment scurrying around and attempting to minimise the damage that the latest photographs might cause, we must keep in mind that these events took place 80 years ago. Let’s try to put that into some context. Is it any wonder that a Right Wing Establishment, including the Royal family, should express admiration for a Right Wing political movement which had come to power in Germany? Not really. How many of us have admired something or someone based on incomplete knowledge and then changed our minds when details have emerged which shows our admiration was misplaced? On a much lesser scale to the Nazi sympathies of the 1930s, many people voted Labour in 1997 and were swept up in a wave of enthusiasm which has since turned to bitter disappointment.

But, to get back to the Royals and their admiration for the Nazis. Even if one assumes that they knew about the anti-Semitic actions taking place in Germany but were prepared to put up with those if it meant having a Fascist dictatorship as an ally in Central Europe, their minds were soon changed when Hitler’s expansionist motives became clear for all to see and war eventually broke out. The full resources of the British Empire were thrown into opposing the Nazi regime and it is fairly safe to assume that, even if some among the Royals were not keen on fighting Hitler, they understood the necessity. That’s because the one thing the British Establishment, of which the Royals are the most visible and recognisable manifestation, won’t stand for is being threatened and Germany’s rise was a very real threat to their hegemony. Britain’s role in Europe was being challenged and its willingness to stand behind its treaty obligations were being severely tested. Yet even in 1939 there were those who would have preferred appeasement rather than war. Whether any of the Royals were in that number is largely irrelevant because by the time the war ended the full scale of Hitler’s atrocities had become plain for all to see and even the most ardent Naxi sympathiser would have been well advised to keep their thoughts to themselves.

It is probably safe to assume that many people who admired the Nazis were forced to alter their opinion once details of the Holocaust were revealed. In any event, those still alive today were children at the time and cannot be held responsible for the mistaken views of their older relatives, just as today’s SNP members cannot be held responsible for the pro-Nazi sympathies of the Party’s founders.

Today’s story is nothing more than salacious gossip and should be treated as such. The only positive aspect to it is that it might prompt a few more people to question why this pampered and privileged family are held in such reverence and awe but even that is doubtful. You can expect to be inundated with pro-Royal news stories over the next few weeks as the media moves into overdrive to reinforce the Establishment’s hold over public opinion.


The RBS who actually cares about Scotland.  If at first you don't secede, try, try again.

Rab Bruce's Spider is a collaborative blog site where individuals who support Scottish Independence can express their views. If you would like to contribute, please email your suggested article to ga.author@sky.com.